The well-known clock that is counting down to Mayor Bloomberg's last day in City Hall might need to be reset.
With City Council members debating whether to put a referendum on term limits before voters for a third time, Mr. Bloomberg could find himself with an opportunity to run for a third term in 2009. If he had the chance and decided to run again, political experts say he would win in a landslide.
As a second-term mayor, Mr. Bloomberg is overwhelmingly popular with New York voters and appears to be enjoying national attention as speculation mounts over whether he will parachute into the 2008 presidential race. If voters approve an end to term limits, or if the council decides on its own to extend the number of terms an elected official in New York City can hold, a third term at City Hall could be enticing for the mayor, who has made it no secret that he loves his job.
"If he could run, he would win like 90% of the vote," Mayor Koch said yesterday.
Mr. Koch, who served 12 years as mayor, said he supports term limits, but thinks city officials should be allowed to stay in office for three terms, not two. After 12 years, elected officials lose the energy and new ideas that make them good leaders, he said.
Mr. Bloomberg has said he doesn't support extending term limits for council members, and in 2002 used his first veto as mayor to oppose a bill to extend the terms of eight council members. He has argued that New Yorkers, who voted twice in the 1990s in favor of term limits, have made their preference clear.
As recently as last month, the speaker of the City Council, Christine Quinn, indicated that the council is leaving open the option of extending term limits. Thirty-six of the 51 council members will be term-limited out of office in 2009.
It's possible that council members eyeing an extension would have an easier time winning popular support if they could use another four years of Mr. Bloomberg's leadership as a selling point.
A political consultant, Henry Sheinkopf, said emphasizing a third term for Mr. Bloomberg would be the best way to sell an end to term limits to voters, but he said he doubted Mr. Bloomberg would ask voters directly to overturn the law so he could stay in office.
If term limits were repealed, Mr. Bloomberg would be re-elected, "no question about it," he said.
A former aide and campaign strategist to Mr. Bloomberg, William Cunningham, said he doubted the mayor would flip-flop on term limits. If the council did overturn the law, Mr. Cunningham would not predict Mr. Bloomberg's course of action.
"He doesn't really deal in hypotheticals like that, so there has never been a question or a conversation," he said. "It would take a very strong argument for what it does to improve municipal government."
Conversations within the City Council on term limits have focused on whether to extend them for council members, not other elected officials in the city.
A professor of public affairs at Baruch College, Douglas Muzzio, said abolishing term limits for the council but not for other offices would change the power dynamic between the executive and legislative branches at City Hall.
"Clearly, it would make the council stronger vis-a-vis the mayor, and the speaker as an individual more powerful," he said. He added that the mayor would still be the principal and dominant actor at City Hall.
The mayor could veto a council measure to extend term limits, but the council could override the veto with 34 votes.
Term limits were introduced in the city for all elected officials in 1993 and approved by voters in a second referendum in 1996 after Ronald Lauder, the businessman, philanthropist, and son of cosmetics magnate Estee Lauder, spent about $4 million on the two citywide campaigns.
A spokesman for Mr. Lauder, Nelson Warfield, said the businessman doesn't think Mr. Bloomberg would change his stance on the issue.
"Mr. Bloomberg has always been strongly committed to defending the voter's choice of term limits, both publicly and personally to Mr. Lauder," Mr. Warfield said. "The voters are still committed to keeping term limits and so is Mr. Lauder by any means necessary."
A spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg, Stuart Loeser, said the mayor has been clear about his views on term limits.
"It's eight years and he's out. He believes in term limits. He has absolutely no interest in a third term," Mr. Loeser said. "It's the greatest job in the world, but he believes that after eight years it will be time for someone else to take over."
A former parks commissioner, Henry Stern, offered another argument against a third term: boredom. He said he found the third term of earlier mayors to be a disappointment.
"He'd get sick of the job," he said. "I think he'd be re-elected, but I don't know if he'd enjoy it."