Billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who poured $155 million of his own money into his first two campaigns, refused to agree to a spending limit for his third term bid, dismissing it as a ridiculous idea.
In exchanges with reporters at a City Hall news conference Thursday, Bloomberg at first would not even acknowledge that he has a re-election operation in place, despite the fact that his team of pollsters, strategists and advisers moved into its headquarters last month.
The Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent mayor, who has been reluctant to even talk about his re-election effort, at first tried to direct the question "to the campaign." He then denied that there is one.
"We're not talking about the campaign. There is no campaign at the moment," he said. A moment later, he said he would finance the operation himself, and said his actions are separate from those of his opponents, who rely on public matching and fundraising.
"I have no idea what they're doing," he said. "They have to decide what they're going to do and I'll decide what I'm going to do."
"Why is the mayor afraid of a fair fight? Maybe he feels he needs to spend an obscene amount of money to hide his record," Castell said.
Bloomberg, whose wealth is estimated at $20 billion, is allowed to spend as much as he wants on his third bid for office because he does not raise money and opts out of public financing.
Most of the other candidates in the race, including Thompson, are relying on the city's public matching program to help bankroll their bids.
In 2005, when Bloomberg ran for re-election and crushed his Democratic opponent, he spent $85 million while the challenger spent about $10 million.
If Bloomberg spends more than $18 million this year, an amount he had reached by late summer during his last race, that will trigger a new level of matching funds for the candidates relying on public money.
Once Bloomberg surpasses that limit, his opponent in the general election will be entitled to more public matching funds -- $7.7 million instead of $3.4 million.
A reporter pointed out to Bloomberg on Thursday that by spending freely, he is essentially sticking taxpayers with that extra $4.3 million.
Bloomberg said his opponents "don't have to take the money" and said reporters should ask them "why do they think it's so important to spend taxpayer money?"