The Curse of the Third Term has Mayor Michael Bloomberg in its grip.
It’s a curse that has afflicted other mayors, including Fiorello LaGuardia, Robert F. Wagner Jr. and Edward Koch. And, judging by what’s happened in his third term so far, the Curse is still operating -- big time.
“The New York public sees politics as entertainment. They may enjoy a fresh face at City Hall but, after eight years, people are apt to get bored, " political consultant Hank Sheinkopf told me. "People often turn their attention to incidents of corruption or wrongdoing. Anything that can go wrong usually does. Like the City Time scandal, the snowstorm that buried Queens, the campaign to make a third term possible.”
History certainly validates the thesis that a third term in New York can be devastating -- to the person who runs for it. LaGuardia, whose colorful personality dazzled New Yorkers and made him a beloved figure for generations, didn’t do well after he won a third term.
While he had secured billions in public works money from Washington in his earlier years and helped lead the city out of the Great Depression , LaGuardia found the third term taxing to his health.
He wanted to escape. He tried to get President Roosevelt to appoint him a general but it didn’t work out. By the time he left office, New York was overwhelmed with debt and a burgeoning bureaucracy.
Robert F. Wagner Jr, son of a popular senator, was elected mayor three times. His toughest election was the third, when he took on the boss of Tammany Hall, the Democratic bastion, and managed to win. During his years at City Hall, even as unrest over civil rights and Vietnam engulfed the country, Wagner managed to keep the city calm.
He was criticized for postponing critical decisions but, in many ways, he improved New York -- playing a pioneering role in giving women a greater voice in policy making and making strides in building moderate and low cost housing.
But he failed to solve many emerging problems. As one newspaper detailed it in a series of articles called “City in Crisis,” New York was becoming dirty and dangerous -- and school problems were growing.
Ed [“How’m I doin?”] Koch related well to New Yorkers. His wise-guy New York ways endeared him to people. But, in his third term, scandal erupted in New York. His good friend, Queens Democratic Leader Donald Manes, was incriminated in a corruption scandal and, ultimately, killed himself.
There were other disappointments but Koch was never personally linked to scandal. But, if anything, the Sheinkopf theory was operating -- and the public may have been getting bored.
Sheinkopf says -- and history seems to bear him out -- that “nobody can stick around too long. Incumbency can’t buy everything. Nobody likes long goodbyes.”
So, if history teaches us anything, Bloomberg has a tough two years ahead of him. It’s been said that being Mayor of New York means holding the second toughest job in America.
It’s even tougher in the third term.