Rubenstein on the Mayor and Lauder Exceptionalism

Michael Bloomberg’s deference to cosmetics heir Ron Lauder on the issue of term limits is striking, considering that Lauder has never actually been a public elected official. Lauder’s involvement — and apparently, his right to have an outsized say in the city’s position on the matter going forward — is based entirely on the fact that he has a significant personal fortune to back up his advocacy. (Bloomberg will reportedly make Lauder’s role an official one by appointing him to a charter-revision commission.)

I asked public relations titan Howard Rubenstein to explain.

“Well, Lauder is the father, and financed the effort to impose and keep term limits. So, he’s a startling and significant voice,” Rubenstein told me in a telephone interview just now. “He’s inspired the movement."

Rubenstein, who at times seems to speak on behalf of both Bloomberg and Lauder, said that the mayor has good reason to reach out to Lauder on the issue, and "it’s more than just the money.”

Rubenstein said Lauder “introduced the idea, paid for advertising for it” and become its most recognizable supporter. “It could have been someone else, but he put his money behind it,” he said.

In any case, the father of term limits doesn’t want to talk about the movement.

When I expressed confusion over Lauder’s exact position on the proposed changed to the law–and whether he’s on board or got any problems with the current proposal–Rubenstein said, "Right now, what he’s saying is he’s not going to comment on what he’s on board for. He, the mayor, and [corporation] counsel, are trying to work it out. Corporation counsel told the mayor if it has it as a sunset provision, it’ll be overturned in the court.”

The goal, Rubenstein said, is to determine “how can it be ended and revert back to two terms.”

When asked how, if term limits are refashioned to help one person stay in office, the law would retain any credibility the next time a public official makes the case for an exception, Rubenstein said that people will understand that it’s being done because of the extraordinary financial challenges facing the city right now.

“This situation is a once in a lifetime,” he said. “The last time we had this situation was the Great Depression.”