The New York Times reports that a majority of New Yorkers do not favor Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s serving another term, despite Blumenthal’s success last October in getting the New York City Council to “extend” term limits so that he and council members could all serve third terms.

Term limits were imposed in New York City through a 1993 voter referendum, reaffirmed by a second referendum in 1996. But Bloomberg is afflicted with a certain form of universally contagious arrogance. He is a self-made billionaire. He serves as mayor, because of this, for a dollar a year, and so may conceive himself a kind of Platonic philosopher-king – he deigns to provide his competence to the people for no reward other than to provide those he serves with the benefit of his talents, asking only that he be able to buy their votes every four years with $100 million campaigns that swamp the competition.

Indicative of Bloomberg’s arrogance was his desire to eliminate the voter-imposed barrier to serving a third term. Did he go to the voters of New York City and ask them, in a vote, to reconsider the limits for which they had twice voted? He did not. He went to the equally self-interested city council and asked it to vote to extend the limits on both him and its members.

Rudy Giuliani considered the same possibility after 9/11, but did not act. Bloomberg, however, has been a great success in business – there is no denying it – and he has been a very successful mayor – even those who do not wish to see him serve a third time acknowledge it. From these successes, from the money, and from the elevated atmosphere of that wealth and power and the company of various elites, comes – like a contagion – expectancy that all this is his proper sphere, in which, with a little bit of finagling, he should be permitted to continue to operate as long as it pleases him to do so.

It should be self-evident, though, that public servants – both those who strive and those who deign to serve – should not properly author legislation from which they personally benefit. Even the demagogue Hugo Chavez went to the people of Venezuela twice before persuading them in February of this year to vote their freedom more completely away by eliminating term limits on his presidency. (Here, a prohibition on personal benefit would have protected the Venezuelan people from themselves.) But Michael Blumenthal is a billionaire, while Hugo Chavez is not, so clearly even smarter, and he felt no compunction to concern himself with what the people he “serves” might actually wish, either in 1993, 1996, or in 2008. Clearly, thought the Bloomberg, my eight years of sterling service will have led them to reconsider. No need, really, even to ask.

Yet now we see that New Yorkers, uncharacteristically quiescent during the unseemly 2008 power grab, are exhibiting the periodic wisdom of the vox populi. Reports the Times:

Despite generally broad approval for the job Michael R. Bloomberg has done as mayor, a majority of New Yorkers say that he does not deserve another term in office and that they would like to give someone else a chance, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times, Cornell University and NY1 News.

and

“I think the city’s needs change as time goes on,” said Deborah Fantera, an architect who lives in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. “And I also think there’s a complacency that happens when someone has been in their position too long.”

and

“Eight years is long enough for a politician to do his service,” said George Chin, a retired financial consultant and political independent who lives on the Lower East Side. “Lengthening terms sets up some sort of crony system where things get stagnant and politicians get too chummy with all the people they work with. I approve of Bloomberg, but I probably would not vote for him because term limits is a significant issue, and it’s time to get someone else in.”

Bloomberg has already driven potential challengers from the field in the prospect of the overwhelming financial assault he plans to unleash in the developing mayoral race. He has let it be known that he is prepared to spend another $100 million of his own fortune to win a third term.

The open question is whether New Yorkers, in the face of an onslaught of advertising and PR, can maintain their current wisdom and balance and lance another boil of presumption – by thanking Michael Bloomberg for his service and asking him to move on.

A. Jay Adler blogs at sadredearth.com

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