‘Bloomberg’s the mayor of New York, not the king’

Pushy, ambitious, bold, Michael Bloomberg’s bid to remain mayor for another four years marks him out as the archetypal New Yorker.

His only problem?

Eight million other New Yorkers.

One of them, George Addison, took that obstinacy to the streets on Thursday, urging residents to sign a petition against Bloomberg’s attempt to extend term limits so that he can run for a third, four-year spell.

“Bloomberg’s the mayor of New York, not the king!” boomed Addison, a gentle giant, who took up much of the sunbaked pavement in the immigrant neighbourhood of Queens, famous for its Greek tavernas.

After an hour, Addison and three other volunteers from the Working Families Party, whose members include major city trade unions, had collected dozens of signatures. The day before, over by City Hall, they’d gathered 1 000.

“It’s a question of democracy. We have to speak up,” said Joan Susha (50) after signing.

In the 1990s, New Yorkers twice rejected changing the city’s two-term limit in referendums.

This time Bloomberg (66) is bypassing a referendum by asking the city council’s 51 representatives to change the rules.

As founder of a hugely successful news and financial data provider, Bloomberg argues he has the business acumen to guide New York’s finances through the Wall Street meltdown.

And there is little doubt he would win a new election next year.

He is worth $20-billion, according to Forbes, and in two previous campaigns poured his own money into the battle. He is, in any case, wildly popular, with approval ratings at about 70%.

The growing anger stems from the way Bloomberg has appeared to override ordinary people in a dash to line up support from fellow billionaires.

For a couple days this week, the city’s fate appeared to hang on Bloomberg’s relationship with Ron Lauder, heir to the Estée Lauder cosmetics fortune and bankroller of the successful pro-term-limit campaigns in the 1990s.

Lauder was hesitating. But then after Bloomberg returned from a trip to London the two met and on Wednesday issued statements that they had a deal.

Lauder would support Bloomberg running again and in return he would sit on a commission preparing a referendum in 2010 — in other words after Bloomberg had been allowed to safely start a third term.

“My personal belief is that in ordinary times two terms is the appropriate number,” Lauder’s statement said. “However, these are extraordinary times … For those reasons I will reluctantly support the mayor’s legislation.”

New York media report that Bloomberg also huddled with the hugely wealthy publishers of the New York Times and other major newspapers, as well as a top financier, developer and other moguls.

“He enjoys being mayor and has enjoyed and wants to continue,” said Steven Brams, politics professor at New York University. “This is a means to an end.”

Brams said he thought there was no point to term limits for mayors, but described Bloomberg’s seizing of the moment at the height of the Wall Street crisis as “quite opportunistic”.

On the streets of Queens, the verdict was harsher.

“The idea of going around the people is wrong. People voted what they voted,” said teacher Luisa Cruz (33).

Rosalie Diraffaele, who is out of work at 57, signed the petition, saying that the affair made her think “voters don’t really count”.

But there was acknowledgement that Bloomberg is particularly well suited to the mayor’s job at such a perilous stage.

“Letting him stay for a third term would be the lesser of two evils because these are extraordinary times,” said Linda Ploumis (71) a retired piano teacher. “He understands money and that’s what we need these days.”

With the city council due to hold public hearings next week and possibly vote soon after, the gathering opposition has little time.

The Working Families Party is using petitions gathered on the streets and on the internet to direct pressure wavering council members to vote no.

John Liu, a Democrat council member, says he will certainly vote against. But he concedes that the Bloomberg machine may be unstoppable.

“This is a game of billionaires,” said Liu, “and as much as I can object, I am several digits short of being allowed to play”. – AFP

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