Friday, June 22, 2007

Mike ’08? Better Dust Off City’s Charter

By CLYDE HABERMAN
NYC
The New York Times
June 22, 2007

How does “Mayor Gotbaum” strike your ear? You never know. You just might have to get used to the sound of that.

We are referring to Betsy Gotbaum. She is the city’s public advocate, a job that has all the glamour of a stop sign and about as much power as a blackout. There are students of municipal government who would lose not a minute’s sleep were the position to disappear, convinced as they are that it richly deserves the obscurity it often enjoys.

Nonetheless, the person holding this job of dubious consequence deserves attention if only for one reason. In their wisdom, the people who rewrote the City Charter nearly two decades ago decided that should anything untoward befall the mayor, the public advocate would take over as the city’s chief executive.

It doesn’t matter if the mayor and the public advocate belong to the same political party, which the people currently holding those positions do not, or if they share a vision for New York’s future, which on many core issues they most definitely do not. From the depths of irrelevance, the public advocate would suddenly become the city’s most powerful political figure not named Sheldon Silver.

How might fate wag its fickle finger?

The mayor could become desperately ill. He might take up permanent residence in Bermuda. He could, heaven forbid, die.

Or he might run for president of the United States.

You may have heard that something along that line is being bandied about in regard to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (ex-Dem., ex-Rep., new-Unaff.).

Nowhere is it written that if Mr. Bloomberg does enter the 2008 race, he would have to resign as mayor. Given his money, competent staff and willingness to delegate authority, some political types are convinced that he would be capable of running a campaign and the city simultaneously.

But it wouldn’t be easy. The last man who tried being New York’s mayor and a presidential candidate at the same time was John V. Lindsay, in 1972. He wasn’t exactly brilliant at either.

Mr. Bloomberg may be more adept. “I think he could do both things, and do both of them well,” said Dick Dadey, the executive director of Citizens Union, a government watchdog group. Still, if he does choose to run, the mayor might decide that the wise course would be to give up his day job.

Is all this highly speculative? Sure. But no more so than the many guessing games already under way:

Is Mr. Bloomberg prepared to spend a billion dollars on a presidential race? Could he qualify for the ballot in all 50 states? Who would be hurt most by his candidacy — Rudy, Hillary, maybe Mike Gravel? Would he have a prayer of winning the necessary 270 votes in the Electoral College? Is he too rich to be popular on a national scale? Too liberal? Too short? Too Jewish? Too unmarried? Too New York? Too whatever?

AS long as speculation is rampant, why not examine possible repercussions for this city? We may be entering what in modern times are uncharted waters. No mayor has failed to complete his term since William O’Dwyer resigned under fire in 1950.

Should Mr. Bloomberg leave City Hall in favor of a national campaign — not to mention should he win in November 2008 — Ms. Gotbaum would become mayor. But not necessarily for long. Under procedures approved by city voters in 2002, a special election would be held within 60 days except in a few unusual situations. Then, in November 2009, the regularly scheduled election would take place to choose a mayor for a full four-year term.

The result may well be that New York will have four mayors in the space of as little as 14 months, from Election Day 2008 to Jan. 1, 2010. There would be Mr. Bloomberg, Ms. Gotbaum, the winner of the special election (who might be someone other than Ms. Gotbaum) and the winner of the regular 2009 election (who might be someone else entirely). Incumbency hardly guarantees victory.

Four mayors in a bit more than a year. How delightful is that prospect? How’s that for a Bloomberg legacy?

Ah, but why waste time and breath on this? This is all silliness, right? Ms. Gotbaum will not become the interim mayor, right? There will be no political turmoil, right? Mr. Bloomberg keeps insisting that he has no presidential plans, right? He says it is his “intention” to finish his mayoral term, right? His announcement this week that he has abandoned the Republican Party to become an independent has nothing to do with 2008, right?

Yeah, right.

E-mail: haberman@nytimes.com

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