Conservative Party and Courts May Hold Key to NYC Mayor's Race

By Jeff McKay | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

( - Term limits may have prevented New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani from running for a third term prior to the scheduled September 11th primary, but circumstances since that day, when the primary was postponed because of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, have created a groundswell of support for Giuliani and possibly set the stage for him to challenge the state's term limits law.

In the days ahead, the current candidates for mayor are expected to agree to postpone taking office for three months to allow Giuliani to stay long enough to manage the crisis caused by the terror attacks. If that plan fails, however, Giuliani may accept the offer of the State Conservative Party Chairman and run on the Conservative ticket, despite the term limits law.

In a city as liberal as New York City, the Conservative Party has never played a commanding role in a mayoral election. However, after the terrorist action which destroyed the World Trade Center and may have killed as many as 7,000 people, this is now a different New York City.

"This is not about politics. This is not about conservatism. We are at war," said New York State Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long.

Long said he and Giuliani met last Wednesday night to discuss the possibility of Giuliani running on the Conservative ticket. According to Long, "Giuliani wants to first discuss with the three candidates a proposal to extend his term to allow for a smoother and stronger transition, and incorporate the newly elected mayor to better deal with the problems the city faces."

Long, however, has kept a door open to Giuliani. "If [the term extension plan] doesn't work, then Giuliani said he would seriously think about running on the Conservative line."

On Thursday, after his meeting with Long, Giuliani met with Michael Bloomberg, the Republican seeking the mayor's office, along with Fernando Ferrer and Mark Green who will face one another in an early October runoff to decide who will face Bloomberg in November. Bloomberg immediately agreed to the Giuliani plan. Green spent a few hours mulling it over before saying yes. But Ferrer unequivocally said "no."

"I know the politics of the moment might dictate a different position. But I am deeply concerned about the precedent this would set and the implications of this extraordinary step for the long-term interests of our city," Ferrer told a news conference.

"For centuries, we have made orderly, constitutional transitions of government -- even in times of crisis. We must not disrupt that process now," Ferrer said.

On Friday, Ferrer may have added fuel to the fire by telling a group of union leaders he "doesn't need to be an apprentice."

"It violates every principle we hold dear," said Ferrer.

Before Ferrer issued his statement, aides to Giuliani said the mayor made clear to "each and every one" of the candidates that if all of them didn't agree to the deal, he would attempt to thwart term limits and find a way to serve another four years.

On Thursday's Oprah Winfrey show, Giuliani said while he would like to stay in office, a prolonged transition would be "the best thing to do."

"This has to be the best transition the city's ever done," he said. "The reality is that a month-and-a-half transition is not enough under normal circumstances. This is not the best of circumstances for any number of reasons." Term Limits Law Battle Looming

Any extension of Giuliani's current term would need state approval. It is no secret that Gov. George Pataki (R) and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R) would sign off on such an extension. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D) has yet to respond to the issue.

But a violation of the term limits law is another story.

If Giuliani does run on the Conservative ticket and wins the election, he still would not be able to assume the mayor's office for a third term under current law. The election would end up in court due to the violation of the state's term limit laws.

"The Conservative Party supports term limits," said Long. "However, we have never dealt with a situation like this before. We are at war. The people of the city of New York, the business here, they are deeply concerned about the city's future. The people want someone to watch the store and they believe the person best suited to watch their store right now is Rudy."

Giuliani, speaking on the Don Imus radio program Friday morning, said, "The state legislature can do this. They could make the new starting date for the new administration April 1st, keep the election now ... which is essentially what I'm proposing. Or they could overturn term limits."

Under current law, Giuliani, who supported term limits when the measure was originally approved, is required to vacate office on December 31st. However, due to the unprecedented circumstances and amid universal praise for his handling of the World Trade Center disaster, there have been calls to keep Giuliani in office to guide the city through recovery and reconstruction.

The Conservative Party already has a candidate. Terry Grey was placed on the ballot months ago. However he has said he will step aside and take a position as a judge, allowing Giuliani to take his place.

The fact that Giuliani is pro-choice and that his positions on many issues are at odds with the Conservative Party's beliefs, is unimportant to Long.

"This isn't about the Conservative Party. This is what the people want. This is what the people need," said Long.

There have been calls for "write-in" campaigns to get votes for Giuliani on the November ballot. Giuliani's approval rating as mayor is higher than ever, and he has received high praise from politicians ranging from Sen. Hillary Clinton to President Bush in how he has led the city through a crisis never before faced by any mayor anywhere.

While the governor, the state Senate president, Bloomberg, and Green all support Giuliani, his opponents include leaders of the Latino and Black community like Rev. Al Sharpton and U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel.

Any repeal of the term limits law, which was approved by voter referendum in 1993, and then again in 1996 after lawmakers tried to roll it back, would require legislative action by either the City Council or the New York State Legislature.