Feds OK term limits change in NYC

March 17, 2009 12:58:28 PM PDT
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's change to city term-limits law won approval from the federal government Tuesday, clearing the final hurdle for the billionaire to run for a third term this year. Under the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department must approve modifications to voting rules in New York City as a way to prevent those changes from discriminating against voters.

Last fall Bloomberg persuaded the City Council to extend the term limits law so that he could run for a third consecutive four-year term. He began exploring the idea of running again after he decided last year not to launch an independent bid for president.

Opponents, including Democratic mayoral candidate William Thompson Jr., argued in letters to the Justice Department that the change to term-limits law discriminates against minorities.

They said the two-term limit created a greater number of open seats more often in elected positions, giving non-white candidates more opportunities.

In a letter sent to the city attorney, the Justice Department disagreed.

"The attorney general does not interpose any objection to the specified changes," wrote Christopher Coates, chief of the Justice Department's Voting Section.

Bloomberg said he was pleased with the ruling; Thompson said the mayor had ignored the voices of voters, who twice approved term limits in the 1990s.

"By overturning the will of the voters on term limits and creating a new set of rules for himself, Mayor Bloomberg said our votes don't count," Thompson said in a statement. "I am disappointed that the federal government has declined to intervene and require the mayor to give the voters a chance to decide the term limits issue."

Bloomberg and his campaign strategists were not exactly waiting around for the federal government's stamp of approval.

For months, the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent has been building the framework for an elaborate, multimillion dollar campaign operation with a team of top talent, a vast headquarters in midtown and offices opening throughout the city in a matter of days.

Bloomberg, who poured $85 million of his own money into his re-election bid in 2005, has spent $3 million so far, while Thompson, the leading Democrat who relies on contributions and public matching funds, has spent $1.4 million.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg's entry into this year's race after changing the term-limits law - which he argued would give voters more choice - has dramatically altered the field of candidates.

So far, two Democrats who had widely been predicted to run have pulled out and a self-financed Republican billionaire supermarket mogul also said he was less likely to launch a bid.

A federal lawsuit against the term-limits law is on appeal after being thrown out, and a state law that would require a voter referendum first is moving through the Legislature.