Third term curse first haunted Koch, now Bloomberg

By Tom Allon

Back in 1987, more than a quarter century ago, an outspoken and opinionated third-term mayor was not only wearing out his welcome, but also evoking the ire of African Americans.

Every week the editorial on the front page of the largest African-American weekly newspaper, the Amsterdam News, ran under the headline “Koch Must Resign.”

During that ill-fated third term, there were a few corruption scandals swirling around Edward I. Koch, the gay community was incensed with his AIDS policies and the African-American community was upset with his handling of a few racial incidents.

No one, it seemed, blamed the third-term mayor for the high murder rate or the crumbling schools, but like a guest who overstays their welcome, the citizens of New York were tiring of a man whose middle initial was also his favorite pronoun.

Fast forward to today. Now we have the final 120 days of New York’s next three-term mayor, and the curse of the third term seems to be plaguing Michael Bloomberg as well — but for different reasons than Koch.

Bloomberg’s successful crime-reducing policies, which have arguably saved more than 1,000 lives a year when compared to 1990s murder rates, have come under assault because many think that success has been accomplished at too great a cost to civil liberties.

That this coalescing of anger at stop-and-frisk is occurring during an election year, with a lame duck mayor, is probably not coincidental.

On top of that, the daily barrage of candidates bashing the mayor’s policies on homelessness, sick leave, a living wage and other 99 percent concerns has tarnished the generally warm glow that has bathed the Bloomberg era.

More than four years ago, in 2008, Bloomberg was riding high and even being mentioned as presidential material. His two terms of strong fiscal stewardship, public safety success and public health and environmental innovations made him the most popular mayor in recent memory.

Like an athlete retiring after a championship season, Bloomberg had the opportunity to exit the city stage on a high note.

It is hard to understand what motivated Bloomberg to want another term. Perhaps he thought he was indispensable in the face of a crippling economic recession or, just as likely, he didn’t know what to do next and the limelight of New York’s mayoralty was difficult to relinquish.

His willing companion in the reversal of term limits, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), was coming off an embarrassing slush fund scandal and she knew that she needed four more years as speaker to rehabilitate her reputation before she ran for mayor.

What neither Quinn nor Bloomberg counted on was a populace weary of a mayor who, despite his confidence-inspiring competence, cast an imposing shadow on many areas of life, including soft drink consumption and hundreds of thousands of street stops of minority youth by police.

The curse of the third term was probably unavoidable. It ultimately defeated Koch and Bloomberg’s legacy and reputation may have been greater if he hung up his spikes after eight years.

Then again, if Bloomberg were on the ballot this November, he’d still be a pretty safe bet to win a fourth term.

Tom Allon, president of City & State NY, was a Republican and Liberal Party-backed mayoral candidate in 2013 before he left to return to the private sector. Reach him at [email protected].

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