Two weeks ago, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg boasted to his aides that he would easily win passage of a measure to give himself the chance to run for a third term.
But now, facing an unanticipated backlash against a plan that was hatched with a handful of fellow billionaires and business moguls, the mayor is having to work much harder to assemble the support he needs to extend his stay in office.
Mr. Bloomberg and his allies have called influential ministers to ask for their support. They are leaning on unions to endorse his plan. And some supporters are said to be pressing members of the City Council, through threats and incentives, to line up behind the legislation that would let him seek re-election.
On Sunday, the mayor won the crucial, if expected, backing of the powerful City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn. But the timing and the tone of her news conference seemed to reflect the desire by the Bloomberg administration and its allies to build momentum for extending term limits for public officials from eight years to twelve.
The campaign, which has drawn sharp rebukes from a collection of grass-roots groups, has reinforced Mr. Bloomberg’s image as a sometimes imperious leader who may be in sync with a world of business executives but less attuned to the attitudes of ordinary New Yorkers.
Mr. Bloomberg, in organizing his campaign to extend his time in office, relied heavily on the counsel of wealthy business leaders and struck a deal with another billionaire, Ronald S. Lauder, whom he viewed as the major obstacle to his plan. And in a sign of just how confident he was, he flew to Europe last week, primarily for a series of events highlighting his international reputation as a titan of commerce.
But while he was away, an intensifying chorus of opponents began to mobilize at home, setting up Web sites, drafting opposing legislation and organizing protests against the plan as an end-run around the will of city voters by the city’s elite.
“People just don’t like the idea that one billionaire, or two billionaires, can treat democracy like a product that can be bought and sold,” said Dan Cantor, the president of the Working Families Party, which has started a campaign against rewriting the law.
Ms. Quinn’s endorsement, which followed months in which she repeatedly refused to divulge her position, will certainly help Mr. Bloomberg build a stronger bulwark against his opponents and could sway some council members.
Ms. Quinn, who once vowed she would never tinker with term limits, said that she had struggled with her decision and that other council members were agonizing, too. “Whatever position people are on is not a decision they’ve made lightly,” she said.
When asked whether she had the 26 votes needed to pass a new term limits law, she said she did not know, and referred instead to a tally being kept by the cable news network New York 1. That tally, as of Sunday afternoon, listed 15 in favor, 17 opposed and 19 undecided — numbers similar to a count conducted by The New York Times late last week.
“They thought that this could be steamrolled no matter what the complication,” said Councilman Vincent J. Gentile, a Brooklyn Democrat, who opposes the legislation. “But they are beginning to see that there is a lot of tar and stickiness in the steamrolling process.”
There are now three bills on term limits scheduled to be considered by the Council. They will be discussed at public hearings on Thursday and Friday by the Governmental Operations Committee, headed by Councilman Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, one of the mayor’s sturdiest allies.
If the mayor’s bill is approved, it could go before the full Council for a vote as early as Oct. 23.
To generate momentum, the mayor’s allies have called on public and private unions to issue endorsements for Mr. Bloomberg’s term limits proposal, according to people briefed on the matter. So far, three city employee unions, the Detectives’ Endowment Association, the city’s sanitation union and the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, have announced their support.
Several prominent ministers also said that Mr. Bloomberg or Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott had called them to solicit their support for extending term limits. They said that they were asked to sign a letter praising Mr. Bloomberg’s record on the city’s public schools and on fighting crime. The letter concluded by having the ministers support the term limits extension.
One of the ministers, the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, the pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, said that he had been contacted by the Bloomberg administration but had not yet decided whether to sign the letter because he wanted to hear more from the members of his congregation.
Source: NY Times