(Adds statement by Bloomberg spokesman)
By Edith Honan
NEW YORK, Nov 21 (Reuters) - New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s popularity fell to its lowest level in three years after he pushed through a law allowing him to seek a third four-year term, according to a poll released on Friday.
Bloomberg’s approval rating has dropped from 68 percent to 59 percent in one month, the first time it has dipped below 60 percent since October 2005, the poll by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion showed.
Bloomberg, a former Wall Street trader and self-made billionaire who was elected mayor in 2001 and 2005, has said his financial experience would be invaluable as the city deals with the global economic crisis.
Critics have accused him of a naked power grab using the financial crisis as a pretext.
Earlier this month, Bloomberg signed a law raising the term limit for elected officials to three four-year terms from two, which would allow him to run in the 2009 mayoral election.
The law, approved in a vote last month by the New York City Council, runs counter to public referendums held in 1993 and 1996 that imposed the two-term limit.
Just 30 percent of New Yorkers support the term limit extension, while 43 percent oppose it and nearly half say the courts should strike down the law, the poll showed.
Almost half of New Yorkers say the city is headed in the wrong direction, it showed, a marked change from a March 2006 survey when two-thirds said it was on the right path.
“Mayor Bloomberg has never been afraid to make the kind of tough decisions needed to get the city through these tough times and back on steady footing again,” the mayor’s spokesman, Stu Loeser, said in a statement.
Marist pollster Lee Miringoff told reporters at City Hall that Bloomberg’s performance in the 2009 election is likely to reflect New Yorkers’ view of the economy rather than any hard feelings about the term limits change.
“If he loses, I assume it would be because of the economy and issues of the direction of the city that people want to go in,” Miringoff said. “I would be surprised if he’s voted out of office because of term limits.”
A civil rights lawsuit is pending in federal court that contests the term limits law for denying voters “meaningful participation in the political process.”
Bloomberg, a longtime Democrat, became a Republican to run for mayor in 2001 then dropped party affiliation after being reelected. He opted to seek a third term as mayor after ruling out an independent run for U.S. president.
The Marist telephone survey, conducted from Nov. 17 to 19 on 696 registered New York City voters, had a margin of error of 4 percentage points. (Editing by John O‘Callaghan)