Arguing that New York needs his financial skill to guide it through the crisis on Wall Street, Mayor Michael Bloomberg persuaded the City Council to amend the term-limits law Thursday so that the billionaire independent can run for re-election next year.
By a 29-22 vote, the council agreed to allow officeholders three consecutive four-year terms. Existing law limits them to two terms, and Bloomberg's second is up at the end of 2009.
The former CEO was first elected as a Republican in 2001, while smoke was still rising from the ruins of the World Trade Center; he later became an independent.
The vote dramatically alters the city's political landscape. Many would-be mayoral candidates are expected to drop out of the race rather than run against a popular incumbent with unlimited cash to spend. Bloomberg founded the financial news service that bears his name and is worth an estimated $20 billion.
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The term-limits proposal touched off a short but vigorous debate after Bloomberg announced his plans to seek re-election three weeks ago. The move was a sharp turnaround for Bloomberg, who had previously backed the term limits law and scoffed at any attempt to change it.
Scores of New Yorkers came to testify during 20 hours of council hearings, and a poll found that registered voters overwhelmingly disapproved of the plan.
On Thursday, Councilman Charles Barron, who voted against the bill, urged his colleagues to say “no to bullying, no to billions of dollars and yes to the people.” And Councilman Tony Avella said: “You should all be voted out of office for voting for this.”
Opponents argued that the mayor was going over the heads of voters, who approved term limits twice in the 1990s. Many critics said they did not disagree with Bloomberg's goal of adding a third-term option but faulted the way he went about it.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn acknowledged the “difficult” decision each council member had to make, but agreed with Bloomberg that the city needs continuity to get through the financial turmoil. The crisis on Wall Street has done severe damage to the city's financial fortunes.
“Our city, already in recession, is headed for a long and deep downturn,” she said. “In challenging times like these, the voters should have the choice, the choice to continue their current leadership.”
As the measure passed, a shout from the spectators' section on the balcony: “Shame on you, shame on all of you!”
Several council members who opposed the plan made a last-minute push for a voter referendum on term limits, but their measure was defeated.
Bloomberg's success at passing the term-limit proposal comes after several high-profile failures for the 66-year-old mayor. During his first term, he lost a campaign to put a new football stadium on Manhattan's West Side. The stadium would have been the centerpiece of the city's bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Earlier this year, he failed to get the Legislature to approve a plan to toll cars entering the most crowded parts of Manhattan, with the goal of cutting traffic and pollution.