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Bloomberg makes deal with potential term limit foe

October 8, 2008 5:31:10 PM PDT
Mayor Michael Bloomberg worked out a deal Wednesday with a fellow billionaire who had threatened to stand in the way of his campaign to change the city's term-limits law, clearing one potential obstacle as others began forming. Bloomberg met for more than an hour at Gracie Mansion with cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder, who largely financed the referendum that created the city's term-limits law in 1993. Officeholders are restricted to two, four-year terms; Bloomberg wants to extend that to three so he can run again in 2009.

Lauder initially said he supported Bloomberg's bid to change the law, but he began to waiver after Bloomberg announced last week that the modification would be permanent, to stand up to legal challenges. Lauder had wanted it to be temporary.

When Lauder balked, Bloomberg proposed a new deal to win his support - he will put Lauder on a commission in 2010 to reconsider the term-limits law and put it to voters then, after next year's mayoral race. Bloomberg says it would be too confusing for voters to consider term limits and elect a mayor at the same time.

Lauder did not officially accept the deal until he met with Bloomberg on Wednesday. Aides said he was particularly swayed by what he felt was a need to keep Bloomberg in office to deal with long-term effects of the financial crisis.

"My personal belief in ordinary times is that two terms is the appropriate number," Lauder said in a statement. "However, these are extraordinary times and we are in the midst of a financial emergency."

He added that he will "reluctantly support" Bloomberg's effort, and when the commission convenes, he will "vigorously support a return to a two-term limit."

While Lauder is no longer an obstacle, other opposition has begun to mobilize against Bloomberg. Organizers admit he may be tough to stop, however, particularly now that there is no clear source of financing for an opposition campaign.

One group of opponents, the Working Families Party, set up the Web site itsourdecision.org and sent an e-mail to tens of thousands of supporters Wednesday to rally New Yorkers to its side.

"You don't get to change the rules at the end of the fourth quarter just because your team wants to keep playing," it said.

The influential group, which includes community activists and labor union members, also launched a petition drive to convince City Council members to vote against Bloomberg's proposal, which was introduced in the council on Tuesday. The 51-member body won't vote until later this month, at the earliest.

"It's an uphill fight, but more and more people are starting to pay attention and are going to demand that this be done in a way that lets the public decide," said Working Families Party spokesman Dan Levitan. The party also is planning an online ad campaign.

From the moment Bloomberg announced his intentions last week, good government groups and others began threatening legal action. They said he had no right to go through the City Council to change the law, rather than put the issue to voters, who have endorsed the current limits twice.

But lawyer and City Charter expert Richard Emery - who opposes Bloomberg's proposal - admits it will be difficult to poke holes in what would appear to be a legitimate use of power by the City Council.

"It may be technically legal, although there will be challenges," Emery said. "And we will look at every way to challenge it if they do it, because it is so morally corrosive."

Before taking any court action, those who disagree with the mayor's attempted path to changing the law hope to block him with legislation.

A competing City Council bill seeking to thwart Bloomberg's effort was introduced Tuesday. It would require any term-limit law changes to be done by voter referendum only.

And on Wednesday, State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries announced a state-level opposition effort. He said he planned to introduce legislation that would mandate a public referendum for municipal term-limit law changes.

Legislation introduced now isn't likely to get much traction in Albany until the next regular session, which begins in January. Although the Legislature is scheduled to return for a special session this November and possibly December, the focus will be on cutting spending to confront budget shortfalls.


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