After weeks of rumors, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani made it official Wednesday: He is willing to stay on as mayor, if only temporarily, assuming a way can be found to suspend New York's term limits law.
The mayor, who has won international praise for his steady leadership in the hours after the World Trade Center attacks, told CBS-TV's "60 Minutes II" that he wants to remain in office past Jan. 1--the day his second four-year term is scheduled to end--because the city's ability to recover might depend on it.
"I am open to the idea of doing it," he said in an interview with anchorman Dan Rather. "We have developed all this expertise, and this is the time the city needs it most. I couldn't walk away from [the job]. . . . I would feel that I was walking out on my duty and obligation if I did."
Earlier, Giuliani said he was discussing an unspecified "way to unify the city" with New York's three candidates for mayor. He refused to provide details but said, "This city is going to need a lot of help, it's going to need politicians who think outside the box."
The mayor's announcements threw New York's mayoral race into turmoil, with three candidates voicing opposition. But many New Yorkers--including liberal Democrats--want the Republican mayor to stay on, according to several polls conducted during Tuesday's primary elections.
"The man would be reelected, almost by acclamation, if he appeared on the November ballot," said political consultant Joseph Mercurio.
One alternative approach that Giuliani is said to be exploring calls for a "power-sharing arrangement" permitting him to stay temporarily in office while a new mayor learns the ropes, a veteran political observer said. But "candidates might not want him looking over their shoulder," he added.
Giuliani's statements confirmed what many political insiders and New Yorkers have been speculating about since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But there is no guarantee that he will find a legal way onto the Nov. 6 general election ballot, or a way to extend his term.
Although the state Legislature could suspend the city's term limits law, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, is opposed to doing this; he has said, however, that he is willing to let his fellow Democrats discuss and possibly vote on the issue. On Wednesday, Giuliani called Silver requesting that the law be overturned, but the speaker did not offer a firm answer either way, according to his spokeswoman, Eileen Larrabee.
The Democrat-controlled New York City Council could also suspend the term limits law, but so far it has refused to do so.
Public Advocate Mark Green and Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, the Democrats who will meet in an Oct. 11 mayoral runoff, criticized Giuliani's idea. So did media mogul Michael Bloomberg, the GOP nominee.
"You don't change the rules so late in the game," Ferrer said. "There will be a new mayor elected in November; that's the democratic way."
Beyond the political complexities, Giuliani's announcement could also create a personal dilemma: If he is suddenly seen as being more political, will he squander the goodwill he has accumulated?
During the primary elections, candidates from both parties paid homage to Giuliani's nonpartisan leadership. They suspended their campaigns after the attacks out of respect to the dead and missing, but also because the mayor was urging a citywide tone of civility.
Were the mayor to suddenly become more political, many people who had rallied behind him might find his actions objectionable, experts say.
"During the immediate days after the crisis, Giuliani's approval ratings were off the charts," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac Poll. "But ever since talk began of Rudy staying on, some erosion set in. His positive-negative ratings now are 68% to 32%, and if I were one of his advisors, I'd worry about that."
Others say Giuliani is so popular, it doesn't really matter what he does in the political arena. If a way can be found for him to get around the term limits requirement, they believe he would be overwhelmingly reelected.
"How else do you explain Tuesday's exit polls of Democratic voters?" Mercurio said. "You had the most liberal, hard-core voters turning out, and 40% said they would vote for Rudy if he was listed on the mayoral ballot."
Some experts fear that New York might face extraordinary hardships if a mayoral neophyte takes over for Giuliani. They say his contacts with the Bush administration and Congress are too valuable to lose.
"You face the real risk that the next mayor will not have the confidence of leaders in Washington and the financial community," said Fred Siegel, a New York political observer and senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. "This city is going to need massive infusions of money, fast, as the recession begins, and Giuliani is the one guy they all trust."