NEW YORK | Michael R. Bloomberg‘s bid for a third term hit an expensive obstacle Monday when a billionaire businessman declared that he will open up his wallet and spend some of his fortune to fight the mayor’s effort to overturn the term-limits law.
The involvement by Buffalo Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano delivers a significant boost to a Bloomberg opposition campaign that appears to be gaining momentum each day.
Mr. Golisano said Monday that he doesn’t believe the law limiting officeholders to two terms should be changed without voter approval, and will finance an opposition campaign and media blitz that includes newspaper advertisements and likely radio and television spots.
“The people have the right and deserve the opportunity to make this decision,” Mr. Golisano said.
Mr. Golisano’s involvement sets up a high-priced battle between two New York billionaires who are no strangers to spending millions on political causes.
Mr. Golisano set a nationwide record for spending on a gubernatorial campaign - $73.9 million during the 2002 race - and has led multimillion-dollar campaigns against causes like upstate casinos and special interests in politics. The founder of Paychex Inc., a payroll-processing company, ranks as the 281st-richest American, with a net worth of $1.6 billion, by Forbes magazine estimates.
Mr. Bloomberg set his own spending records in running for mayor in 2001 and 2005, dumping a total of $155 million of his own money. Mr. Bloomberg, the founder of a financial information company that bears his name, is listed as the 8th-richest American, with a net worth of $20 billion.
Mr. Golisano declined several times to say how much he was prepared to spend on the term-limits campaign.
Mr. Bloomberg told reporters Monday he welcomes Mr. Golisano’s voice in the debate. However, his close political adviser, Kevin Sheekey, met with a Golisano aide last week to try to persuade the billionaire to keep out of it.
Opposition to Mr. Bloomberg’s efforts has been picking up momentum in the two weeks since the mayor announced his plans, saying his business expertise is needed to help the city weather the financial crisis.
The City Council has fast-tracked the mayor’s bill and could vote as early as Thursday, although that was looking less likely. Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who backs the Bloomberg plan, told Democratic members of the council on Monday that the vote was not on the agenda yet for Thursday, which typically means she does not have enough support to pass a bill.
On Monday, the Working Families Party, which has organized part of the opposition effort, targeted undecided City Council members with giant posters in their districts, urging constituents to call the lawmakers. And the politically powerful healthcare workers union, SEIU 1199, also came out against Mr. Bloomberg’s attempt to change the law.
Until Mr. Golisano emerged to take up the cause, the opposition campaign has been largely grass-roots, without a major source of financing that would enable a widespread media effort.
“It’s hard sometimes to get the message out when you feel a little bit alone, and now here’s someone who has come to defend the people’s interest, and it’s a very, very important development,” said Councilman Bill de Blasio, a chief opponent of Mr. Bloomberg’s efforts.
If the council were to pass Mr. Bloomberg’s term-limits change, Mr. Golisano said it was possible he would help finance legal challenges. He also indicated that, down the road, he might throw his money behind candidates challenging council members or others who support Mr. Bloomberg’s bill.
Another New York billionaire, Ronald Lauder, had toyed with the idea of fighting Mr. Bloomberg’s efforts, but the mayor won him over by offering him a deal. In exchange for Mr. Lauder’s support, Mr. Bloomberg invited Mr. Lauder to sit on a commission he will appoint to study the term-limits law again and perhaps put it before the voters.