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Lacking tough opponent, NY mayor battles the press
* Bloomberg calls reporter "disgrace" for asking question
* Clashes may portend tough third term for the billionaire
By Edith Honan
NEW YORK, June 5 (Reuters) - Despite getting into public arguments with the press and angering public sector unions over deep budget cuts, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg looks to be sailing to a third term in the absence of a strong competitor.
The billionaire founder of information and media group Bloomberg LP, the mayor has long enjoyed favorable ratings from well over half the city's voters, and a Marist poll in May showed 59 percent said he was doing a good or excellent job.
Recent polls show Bloomberg with a double-digit lead over his main rival, Democratic City Comptroller William Thompson.
"There's a vacuum right now in terms of systematic political opposition expressing a credible counterweight to the mayor. And the press in many ways has stepped in to fill that vacuum," said David Birdsell, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College in New York.
Bloomberg spearheaded a campaign last year to overturn term limit laws that would have stopped him from running again, pushing for a vote in the city council that overrode two public referendums in 1993 and 1996.
His poll numbers dipped after the change in October and he came under harsh criticism by some in the media who accused him of orchestrating a power grab. Relations with the city hall press corps have been testy ever since.
CLASHES WITH PRESS
At the end of May, Bloomberg lashed out.
After he reported indications the local economy might be recovering from the financial crisis, a reporter for the New York Observer asked if that undercut his stated rationale for overturning the term limits law: that the city needed his particular skills in times of economic hardship.
An irritated Bloomberg dismissed the question and told the reporter, "You're a disgrace."
It was not an isolated incident.
In April, Bloomberg displayed what New York Times writer Clyde Haberman called "extreme peevishness" when he brought a news conference to a halt and chastised a wheelchair-bound reporter whose tape recorder accidentally started playing.
He has angered reporters in recent weeks by deciding not to take questions on city business while at campaign events and conversely not to answer campaign questions at mayoral events.
One veteran TV journalist wrote a blog saying Bloomberg should consult a therapist.
Another wrote that Bloomberg, who is spending millions of dollars on his campaign, "appears to believe that buys him the right to campaign without answering questions about it."
Asked this week if his temper would have a bearing on the campaign, Bloomberg said, "I am 67 years old. I am who I am."
Bloomberg, listed by Forbes as the richest man in New York, has spent at least $18 million of his own money ahead of the November vote and could equal the $84 million he spent on his 2005 re-election. Thompson has spent one-tenth of that.
Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner and Republican supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis both bowed out early, with Weiner citing the mayor's personal fortune as a reason.
The longtime Democrat turned Republican to run for mayor in 2001 and again in 2005, then turned nonpartisan while he was considering an independent run for U.S. president.
If he wins election, a third term could be tough. "Third terms are murder," said Mickey Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, adding that the public and the press tend to tire of long-serving executives.
"My guess is it will not be a pleasant four years. There is a weariness that sets in," he said. (Editing by Daniel Trotta and Claudia Parsons)
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