Mayor Bloomberg Shopping for New Political Party

Monday, 02 Mar 2009 08:00 AM

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NEW YORK -- New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg once dismissed political parties as a "swamp of dysfunction," but now he's trying to woo back party leaders to boost his chances of winning a third term in November.

A longtime Democrat who became a Republican to run for mayor in 2001, Bloomberg backed an unsuccessful 2003 effort to make New York elections nonpartisan. Then he became an independent in 2007 as he weighed running for president.

He shook up the political establishment again last year when he pushed a term limits change through the City Council that allowed him to run one more time.

The measure, signed into law by Bloomberg after an emotional debate that pitted him against many of his longtime allies, raised the limit for elected New York City officials to three four-year terms, overturning 1993 and 1996 referendums that had imposed a two-term limit.

Although recent polls show he is far ahead of any rival, Bloomberg has so far failed to convince a major party to let him run as its candidate - a rebuff that could cost him thousands of votes.

Party affiliation is a requirement to run for office, and Bloomberg would have to create his own party if no existing party were to accept him.

But as a new organization, it would be listed on the far right-hand side of the ballot, considered the least advantageous spot as voters read from left to right.

"There's sort of a cosmic justice that punishes hubris," said Douglas Muzzio, Baruch College professor of public affairs at the City University of New York. "The mayor is an enemy of parties - until he needs their line."

SHOPPING AROUND

Bloomberg began his campaign on Wednesday to win back Republican favor by meeting with party leaders. He told reporters he would be honored to run as a Republican, but no deal has been reached.

Campaign aides also have reached out to Democratic leaders and smaller parties such as the Working Families Party and the Independence Party, local media reported.

Meanwhile, the mayor must contend with the New York State Legislature in Albany. It is considering a proposal that could force a voter referendum sometime this spring on the term limit change.

The bill cleared a New York State Assembly committee on Wednesday, and a Senate committee is expected to approve it on March 10.

"It would be a huge decision on the part of the governor and the legislature to challenge him," said Richard Briffault, professor of legislation at Columbia Law School.

Bloomberg's campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson rejected the mayor's lack of party affiliation and the Albany political maneuvers as being issues.

He pointed to a poll that showed two-thirds of New Yorkers approve of the job Bloomberg is doing and that gives him a double-digit lead over rivals.

"If that's trouble, I say, give me more," Wolfson said of the poll.

Bloomberg says his experience as a Wall Street bond trader and founder of the news and information company that bears his name makes him uniquely qualified to guide the city during the financial crisis.

Bloomberg LP is a competitor to Thomson Reuters.

But many saw the term limits change as a power grab. Bloomberg has also angered Republican leaders by pushing ahead in his second term with priorities they oppose - like a traffic congestion pricing plan.

In an attempt to placate them, the billionaire lavished contributions on Republican State Senate candidates in recent years when the party was struggling to stay in power. But Democrats took control of the Senate in November after decades in the minority.

Bloomberg is expected to spend $100 million on his November bid and has hired an army of campaign aides.

"It is less smooth sailing than certainly the mayor would want. He's running into some turbulence," said Muzzio.

But he added that Bloomberg has "the entire power grid behind him" and predicted he would win the election.

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

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