(Adds statements from Weiner and Quinn)
By Edith Honan
NEW YORK Oct 2 (Reuters) - New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will seek a change in the law so he can run for a third term in 2009, arguing on Thursday that the financial crisis demands a leader of his business acumen.
Voters imposed limits of two 4-year terms on elected city officials in 1993 and 1996, but Bloomberg, a former Wall Street trader and self-made billionaire, will ask the City Council to extend the limits to a third term. This would permit him to enter the mayoral race for the Nov. 3, 2009, election.
"We may well be on the verge of a meltdown and it's up to us to rise to the occasion," Bloomberg told a news conference.
"So should the City Council vote to amend term limits, I plan to ask New Yorkers to look at my record of independent leadership and then decide if I have earned another term."
Bloomberg's decision, months in the making, resembled his dalliance with the idea of running for president. The former Democrat, who became a Republican to run for mayor and then a political independent last year, announced in February he would not run for the White House after dropping hints for months.
Bloomberg said his Wall Street experience would be invaluable at a time when the credit crisis is threatening the U.S. and global economy. New York City is bracing for lean times as tens of thousands of high-paying financial jobs are lost and Wall Street titans are being swallowed up.
Wall Street makes up about one-third of the city's wage base, and each financial sector job creates an estimated three service sector job in industries from law offices to retail.
The idea of extending terms has sparked controversy with some officials calling it an insult and an outrage, declaring only voters should be allowed to change the term limits law.
Bloomberg said he supports a public referendum on settling the term limits issue but that it was too late to put it on the Nov. 4 ballot and impractical to conduct a special election before the mayoral campaign next year.
U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, a likely Democratic candidate for mayor, said it was not too late for a special election. "There is a right way and a wrong way to overturn term limits. What he announced today was the wrong way," he said.
BIG SHOTS FOR BLOOMBERG
A roster of the rich and powerful lined up behind the mayor. Thirty elite New Yorkers including David Rockefeller, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and JPMorgan Chase (JPM.N) Chief Executive Jamie Dimon published an open letter on Thursday urging the City Council to extend the term limits.
Twenty-seven of the 51 City Council members have said they would support a change, and 35 would otherwise be forced to step down next year due to term limits.
The public is split with 46 percent wanting Bloomberg to be able to seek a third term and 44 percent opposed, according to a Marist College poll of 413 registered voters.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a frequent ally of Bloomberg, said a bill to extend term limits from eight to twelve years would be introduced on Tuesday.
"I think Mayor Bloomberg and this City Council have been a very effective team as it relates to dealing with the city's finances and the economy," Quinn said.
If the measure succeeds, Quinn said she would not run for mayor and would instead seek another term as speaker.
Bloomberg founded the financial news and data company Bloomberg LP, a competitor to Thomson Reuters (TRI.N)TRI.L(TRI.TO), and Forbes magazine lists him as the eighth richest American with a net worth of $20 billion. (Writing by Daniel Trotta, editing by Philip Barbara and Jackie Frank)