NEW YORK — New York's City Council on Thursday opened the door to a third term for billionaire Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has argued that his business and political experience is needed to lead the city through its financial challenges.
After a day of debate, the council approved legislation allowing city officeholders -- including council members -- to serve three consecutive four-year terms. Bloomberg's second term is up at the end of next year.
Bloomberg proposed the term-limits extension three weeks ago, which did not leave enough time to get a measure on the November ballot through the voter referendum process.
Given the dire economic outlook, said council members in favor of the change, they could not risk waiting.
"At a time when our city is facing the worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression, this action today will give New Yorkers the choice -- the opportunity -- a year or so from now to go to the voting booth and decide whether or not they want to keep the leadership of the city of New York," City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn said.
The tough fiscal decisions that lie ahead, she said, could include cutting government spending or raising taxes. "At a time like this, what you need is New Yorkers to have the opportunity to have . . . folks at the helm who have been at the helm," Quinn said.
The council passed the measure in a 29-22 vote.
Outside City Hall, some residents criticized the action, calling it a conflict of interest to allow council members to vote on a law that would directly affect them.
"Bloomberg wants to stay in office, and all these council members are going to ride his coattails," said Tosh Anderson, 37, who stood outside with his 2-year-old son as the council convened in a packed meeting room.
Critics of the rule change pointed out that in 2002 Bloomberg vetoed a term-limits extension. Now, they said, he was ignoring the wishes of voters who twice approved term limits in the 1990s.
"Prior to this, we voted no [on an extension]. That should have been the end of it," said Joyce Jones, 46, a Brooklyn resident who hovered outside the chambers with dozens of other New Yorkers trying to listen in on the discussion. "To bring it up among themselves is anti-constituent."
"It's an abuse of power," said Akinlabi Mackall, 60, of Manhattan.
"He is a mayor whose time is up."
Inside the council chambers, members debated the change -- making impassioned pleas for their colleagues to vote for or against it.
"We are stealing like the thief in the night [voters'] right to decide the shape of our democracy," Councilman Bill de Blasio of Brooklyn said.
"We are forgetting who we work for."
Bloomberg, 66, has enjoyed high approval ratings during his time as mayor. He is an independent.
Supporters note that since he was sworn into office, the city's crime rate has declined, high school graduation rates have climbed, smoking among teens has been cut in half and carbon emissions have been reduced.
But some say Bloomberg's aggressive maneuvering to stay in office may hurt his popularity.
Councilman Charles Barron said that although the mayor may have won the fight for extended term limits, "he is a big loser because he lost democracy, he lost the faith of the people."
In a statement Thursday, Bloomberg said it was time to move forward with crucial decision-making.
"Particularly finding ways to soften the fallout from the economic downturn and balancing our budget as revenues decline," the mayor said. "We have a lot of work to do together to get New York through these tough times."