Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced unprecedented plans Thursday to change the city's term limits law in preparation for a third run for office.
Saying he is best prepared to handle the city through these tough economic times and wants to give voters a chance to let him to continue to serve, Bloomberg said he is asking the City Council to draft legislation to extend term limits.
"The question for me has become much less about the theoretical and much more about the practical," said Bloomberg at a news conference at City Hall Thursday afternoon. "And so to put it in very practical terms, handling this financial crisis while strengthening the central services such as education and public safety is a challenge I want to take on for the people of New York."
He said if the bill is passed in the council he will sign it.
He will then ask New Yorkers "to decide if I've earned another term."
"The consequences for New York City are very real," Bloomberg said.
As written, the current term limit law would force him from office at the end of next year. The law limiting elected officials to two terms was twice approved by voters in referendums in 1993 and 1996.
Bloomberg stressed that the public is not going to be forced to have the same mayor, but instead this move will increase the number of choices they will have.
"I'm not picking the mayor, the public is picking the mayor," said Bloomberg.
The mayor insisted he still believes in term limits and he said altering the law is not something that should be done lightly. In the past, he has said it would be "an absolute disgrace" for the term limits to be altered by the City Council without the voters having their say. But he believes there is a justification to extend the law to three terms beyond the two.
Bloomberg is trying to become the only the fourth mayor in New York City history to serve three terms in office.
Bloomberg said he understands that this move will face challenges, but that many lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have expressed their support for his plan.
At a press conference following the mayor's announcement, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said she would meet with the full council on Monday to discuss Bloomberg's proposal and that Bloomberg would formally propose the bill on Tuesday.
Quinn, who said she will not reach a decision on the measure until discussing it with colleagues early next week, has always been opposed to term limits.
"You know I don't think there's a right way and a wrong way," Quinn said. "There are clearly two ways – a vote is one, the council to pass it legislatively is another one, and that is one we are going to consider and decide in in the days ahead. But I don't think there's a right or a wrong way."
The speaker did say that, as expected, if term limits were extended she would not run for mayor, and would seek re-election in her district and as speaker of the city body.
"Each member of the City Council will have to get up and vote yes or no," said Quinn. "The mayor is going to have to get up and either sign the bill or veto the bill."
Borough Presidents Helen Marshall, Marty Markowitz, and Adolfo Carrion all said Thursday that they support the mayor's measure, with Marshall and Markowitz both adding that if the bill was passed they would seek re-election. In the past, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said he was against term limits, as well.
Conservative Staten Island Borough President James P. Molinaro did not issue a formal statement , but he has for some time supported term limits of 12 years instead of eight and said without term limits he would consider running again.
Governor David Paterson threw his support behind the mayor's decision. After Bloomberg dropped his flirtation with running for the White House, some speculated the mayor may be eyeing Paterson's job.
"I'm delighted that he's seeking a third term, because if an elected official has been effective in government and they want to seek a third term, they should go right ahead and do that," said the governor.
Thursday's announcement has already drawn criticism from several elected officials, including City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who has repeatedly supported term limits and who is a 2009 mayoral candidate.
"I am extremely disappointed in Mayor Bloomberg's announcement," said Thompson in a statement he released today. "I have always taken the mayor at his word, particularly when he said on multiple occasions that altering term limits through a council vote would be disgraceful. Let me be clear: today's announcement constitutes an attempt to suspend democracy. We should not undermine the will of the voters."
Thompson, who is term limited out of his office next year, says he's still planning on running for mayor.
So is Congressman Anthony Weiner, who blasted Bloomberg for what he characterized as an underhanded move.
"This is fundamentally about a backroom deal, substituting the value and the judgment of the citizens of the city for their own," he said.
Also expressing disapproval of the plan was Councilman Bill de Blasio, who said that, "never before have we shown so much disregard for the will of the people and disrespect for the democratic process. New York is a city of eight million, not one. To change electoral laws for one person makes a mockery of our entire legislative process."
Several lawyers and good government groups said Wednesday they were considering lawsuits to block any changes made without voter approval.
"The City Charter Commission can be convened next year for the purpose of holding a special election," said Dick Dadey of good government group, the Citizens Union.
According to a new Marist Poll released Thursday, while the majority of New Yorker favor term limits, many support extending them for Bloomberg.
Fifty percent of New York City's electorate favors the current law, while 35 percent oppose restrictions on officials seeking re-election after a second term. However, when Bloomberg's name is mentioned, more voters (46 percent) support changing the law, compared to 44 percent who are against it, and 10 percent who had not made up their minds.
NY1 reached out to all 51 council members to gauge their response to extending term limits.
Six members said they would vote to extend term limits. Twelve said they would not. Another 12 remain undecided, and 21 members could not be immediately contacted or did not respond to the station's calls.
Thirty-four council members will be forced out of office in 2010 by term limits, if this bill is not passed.
However, some of the city's most prominent business people are backing the mayor's plan.
In an open letter printed in several of Thursday's papers, 30 people signed a letter urging the City Council to extend term limits. Among those that signed the letter: Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman, Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Time Warner Chairman Dick Parsons.
The letter says New York would benefit from "continuity of great leadership" and calls upon the City Council to "give New Yorkers the opportunity to vote for whomever they think can do the best job."