Bloomberg's Term Limits Scheme

How Mayor Mike gamed the system

It was while that clock was running down that the financial collapse struck, giving the mayor what Purnick dubs "a plausible reason" to push for a fast Council vote rather than a public referendum.

The mayor then turned to "Complication No. 1." Lauder had already fired an opening shot, running a TV ad depicting politicians as baby diapers that need regular changing. But after what Purnick says was heavy lobbying by the pro-Bloomberg business crowd, Lauder bowed to a one-time change in the law in exchange for a small concession: that the mayor agree to name him to a new Charter Review commission panel in 2010—one that would recommend reinstituting term limits.

Bloomberg and Lauder were so excited about their agreement that they put out a press release describing it. The release was issued by Lauder's eminent public relations adviser, Howard Rubenstein. But Bloomberg's City Hall helped write it and approved it. "I will reluctantly support the mayor's legislation to extend term limits to three terms," Lauder stated in the release, "with the understanding that I will serve on a Charter-revision commission which will place the question of the number of terms before the voters in 2010."

Stan Shaw

Lauder clearly wasn't getting much in return: The commission doesn't even exist, and if it is convened, he'll be just one member. But it was also a glaring example of the city's top executive using the perks of office to win political advantage. That is something officials are explicitly barred from doing by the City Charter. As good-government advocates Gene Russianoff of NYPIRG and Susan Lerner of Common Cause put it in a letter a few days later to the city's Conflicts of Interest Board, "We believe that Mayor Bloomberg has used his position in a prohibited manner to obtain personal advantage in a quid pro quo deal with Ronald Lauder."

Whatever became of that complaint? "Nothing," said Russianoff last week. "We never heard a word from the board."

That's the policy, a board official said when asked about the matter. When the board doesn't find any violation, "the public never finds out," he said. Which is just how the mayor wants to keep it until after November.

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