Spin Cycle

News, views and commentary on Long Island, state and national politics.

Fantasy-league politics is all the rage.

In just the past two years in New York this hobby, or habit, or whatever you call it, has served up such pie-in-the-sky as Mayor Michael Bloomberg running for president, Rick Lazio dropping out of the governor's race, Gov. David A. Paterson appointing himself U.S. senator, ex-Gov. George Pataki running for U.S. Senate, and ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer running for state comptroller. Whatever the sources and motives for the rumors, each of them turned out to be as hypothetical as me trading my Johan Santana for your Cliff Lee.

Which brings us to Wednesday's unsourced gossip-page claim - repeated much of the day on radio, TV and Internet outlets - of "whispers" that President Barack Obama "sounded out" Bloomberg on replacing Tim Geithner as Treasury secretary. You can't prove it wasn't true, of course. But you have very good reason to disbelieve it - including Bloomberg's denial, the White House's denial, the thin placement of the rumor, and the sense that if this really were about to happen, both sides of the fantasized transaction would leave themselves a little wiggle room on those denials.

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Bloomberg was asked at a news conference if there were "any circumstances" under which he wouldn't finish his current term, won last year.

"If I died," he replied. "I suppose total incapacitation would also [qualify]. Short of that, I can't think of any." His spokesman said Obama "didn't float anything" and that Bloomberg is "one of Geithner's biggest supporters.".

Now might be right time to learn a lesson from the longer-lived Bloomberg speculation bubble of 2008. While many of us were looking the other way - at how the billionaire ex-Republican could finance an independent run for the White House - the stealthy mayor was preparing to do exactly what he had repeatedly condemned as a disgrace: Fix city law so he could win a third term as mayor. Once Bloomberg lined up powerful support, he and the City Council did that and he got his third term.

This Election Day - arguably after the fact - the city's voters will decide whether to return to the two-term limit set in two referenda in the 1990s.

But beware: This won't be a simple matter of deciding "yes" or "no" on two terms, as it was in the past.

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One complication is that current Council members can get a third term even if the city voter votes "yes." That's because the way a mayoral commission wrote the proposal, the two-term clock won't start ticking in full again until after the 2013 elections.

In the meantime, under the same ballot proposal, the Council would be barred from "altering the term limits of elected officials then serving in office."

In everyday reality, this adds up to three questions. But tough luck for voters who would like to answer them separately. The questions get lumped together in one vote. Supposedly, this has to do with the way the new voting machines and old election laws work.

The same goes for a second ballot question. In it, conflict-of-interest fines for city officials and a change in ballot-signature rules are absurdly lumped together, along with a grab bag of several other proposals.

Again: Object to one of these, and you must vote "No" on all, or else accept what you see as the bad with the good.

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Sorry, citizens.

You can see why it's easier to just talk about fantasy politics and, say, pretend to trade Bloomberg to the Obama team.