Voters get to decide this week whether New York City officeholders can serve two or three consecutive terms, two years after Mayor Michael Bloomberg abruptly orchestrated a change to the law so that he could run for mayor a third time.
The billionaire mayor _ after dropping the idea of running for president _ hastily persuaded the City Council in 2008 to extend the term-limits law for him and other officeholders, who at the time were barred from running for a third consecutive term.
The move rankled voters and dramatically altered the city's political landscape, causing several mayoral hopefuls to drop their plans to run in 2009. Some said they had no interest in mounting a challenge against a popular incumbent with a multibillion dollar fortune to finance his campaign.
At the time, Bloomberg argued the city needed him to stay on through the economic crisis. The former CEO and founder of a financial information company promised he would later appoint a commission to revisit the term limits issue and put it to voters.
The commission began its work last spring, and settled on a ballot question that asks voters whether the city's charter should be amended to two consecutive terms for elected officials. If voters choose yes on Tuesday, the law will go back to two terms. If they vote no, the three-term limit will stand.
The measure also limits City Council members from changing the law to benefit incumbents down the road.
Many were angered by Bloomberg's approach two years ago, and it showed at the polls when he was re-elected. The Republican-turned-independent spent $109 million, some 10 times more than his Democratic opponent, and won by fewer than five percentage points.
James Bouyer, 46, a Democrat from Queens, said he felt cheated last time around and plans to vote to restore the two-term limit on Tuesday.
"I didn't like the way Bloomberg just changed it for himself," Bouyer said. "We should have got our chance the last time."
Quinnipiac University polling director Maurice Carroll predicts the two-term limit will pass.
"People love term limits like apple pie and motherhood," he said. "For some reason most people have very serious reservations about legislators and how long they should serve _ it's its part of the 'throw the bums out' belief."
A Quinnipiac University poll last May found that 57 percent of registered voters surveyed said officials should be limited to two terms, 16 percent said three terms, 5 percent said four terms and 19 percent favored no term limits at all.
New York City voters twice approved a two-term limit by ballot referenda in the 1990s.
Observers are predicting very low participation on this year's ballot questions _ partly because they are printed on the back of the ballot, and many voters may not know to turn over the card.
The group New Yorkers for Term Limits released a television ad to run this week through Election Day, urging people to vote yes on the question, with the slogan "Flip over the ballot. Flip off the politicians."
In a twist, Bloomberg recently said he was planning to vote yes, meaning he believes future officeholders deserve two terms, even though he sought three for himself.
The commission that reviewed the charter also put a second question on the ballot. It is multilayered, with seven different bullet points.
Among those are a proposal that would reduce the number of petition signatures candidates need to get on the ballot, and a measure that requires greater public disclosure of campaign spending made by organizations and individuals independent of candidates.
Voters must vote yes or no on all seven points.