NEW YORK, October 17 – New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg\’s bid to change term limits and stay in office next year is disgraceful, angry opponents told a raucous public meeting on the controversy Thursday.
City Council member Tony Avella called the proposal a "disgrace" and was seconded by another opponent, council member Letitia James, who added that New York was led by a "government of wolves."
Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman due to step down in 2009 at the end of his second four-year term, wants the City Council to change the law and allow three terms. He would then compete in next year\’s election.
Supporters say the popular mayor should be allowed to run again because he could offer a steady hand at a time when the Wall Street meltdown is badly threatening the city budget.
Opponents say that because voters twice rejected changing the two-term limit in referendums in the 1990s, any adjustment can only come through another referendum.
The issue has aroused high passions in New York, where Bloomberg\’s rule has largely avoided major controversy.
More than 200 members of the public crammed into the council chamber for the first of just two open hearings before the city government is due to vote. The session was carried live on local NY1 television.
Hearing chairman Simcha Felder warned at the outset against disturbances, saying: "If you feel like doing something outrageous, or to get some attention, please go and do so outside now and come back when you feel better."
Speaking for Bloomberg, lawyer Anthony Crowell said it would be wrong not to allow voters next year to at least have the possibility of keeping the mayor.
"The financial crisis threatens many of the gains we\’ve made as a city," he said. "After listening to many different people with many different opinions, the mayor has come to believe that it is best to give people more options."
But one outspoken opponent, councilman Charles Barron, drew excited cheers when he branded the pro-Bloomberg arguments "a bunch of nonsense."
Some in the public were barely able to restrain their emotions as they streamed forward to testify.
A mother of six from the Bronx neighborhood said: "Thank God for Mayor Bloomberg … We have to vote for whomever we see fit."
Shortly after, a former police officer warned that overturning the referendum results meant "dictatorship and tyranny."
A second hearing takes place Friday. The council may vote as early as next week.
Bloomberg needs a simple majority of the 51 members for his proposal to pass. So far, less than half have declared support or opposition.
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 crisis.
Many believe he would win the 2009 election if allowed to run.
He is worth 20 billion dollars, 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 around 70 percent.
But growing anger stems from the way Bloomberg has appeared to override ordinary people in a dash to line up support from fellow billionaires.
Crucially, he secured the support of Ron Lauder, heir to the Estee Lauder cosmetics fortune and bankroller of the successful pro-term-limit campaigns in the 1990s.