New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is so enamored with himself that he insists on remaining in office — even if it means transforming the city’s electoral laws. Mr. Bloomberg is an accomplished businessman — worth an estimated $1.6 billion — and a skilled leader. He has been in office since 2001 and cannot seek re-election when his term ends November, 2009. Yet he mistakenly believes only he can help the city weather the current financial meltdown.
In an Oct. 2 press conference, Mr. Bloomberg announced he would seek to overturn the two-term limit for his office; a bill to this effect is being presented to the City Council today. However, a growing grass-roots opposition movement stands in his way. Blase Thomas Golisano, owner of the Buffalo Sabres, is financing a media blitz against Mr. Bloomberg’s proposed change and will support legal challenges if the Council votes in the affirmative. Mr. Golisano rightly says the issue must be submitted to voters.
Mr. Bloomberg’s pragmatic approach to solving problems has by and large served the city well. He is a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent who supports positions from both parties: He is a social liberal who favors government spending but who also believes in fiscal responsibility. He won election in 2001 touting his business credentials as essential to restoring the city’s fortunes after the attacks on the World Trade Center. He was re-elected in 2005 by a wide margin. To his credit, he eliminated New York City’s $6 billion deficit, balanced the budget and established a $3 billion surplus. This is no small feat. Thus, he has the support of many area business leaders in his current bid.
However, there is no good reason to overturn the city’s existing term limits — and certainly not without the full participation and approval of the electorate. Term limits are an essential component of American democracy. The United States system of government is predicated on the dispersal of power in separate branches — each of which are carefully curtailed. Even George Washington, the nation’s Founder, understood that it was more important to allow for a smooth transition of power than to remain in office — despite his considerable talents and the nation’s fragility. He recognized that limiting power is ultimately more valuable than prolonged leadership by one man — no matter how talented or valuable.
Mr. Bloomberg’s case for wanting to hold onto power for a third consecutive turn makes little sense. If he wants to play a leading role in overseeing the city’s economy in the next few years, he can certainly do so in myriad capacities, which could include sharing his wealth of knowledge with the next new mayor.
Historically, in nations around the world, the claim to being essential in a moment of crisis is the most common route for establishing long-term power that exceeds the people’s original mandate. All too often this turns into a sinecure — and eventually a form of tyranny. Americans ought to be wary of any man who believes he is indispensable. When Mr. Bloomberg’s term ends, he should simply step aside.