By MICHAEL BARBARO
In his aggressive pursuit of a third term, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has begun to alienate some of his fiercest supporters, who say that his hardball tactics are undercutting his well-earned legacy as a reformer and an anti-politician.
In dozens of interviews, former aides to the mayor, elected officials, good-government advocates and voters said they have become deeply disillusioned by the way Mr. Bloomberg is corralling support to rewrite the city’s term limits law, which New Yorkers have endorsed twice in citywide referendums.
Over the last three weeks, the mayor and his aides have silenced a potential critic of his third-term bid with the promise of a plum position on a government committee, pressed groups that rely on his donations to speak on his behalf and cajoled union leaders to appear on camera endorsing his agenda.
Those tactics are expected to deliver a victory on Thursday when the City Council votes on whether to allow Mr. Bloomberg to seek a third term. But many of those interviewed say the horse-trading and arm-twisting he has used in pursuing that term are at odds with his claim to being above the fray of rough-and-tumble politics.
“This is the first move that really pushes the boundary of what he can get away with,” said David Garth, a top political strategist in Mr. Bloomberg’s 2001 campaign for mayor. “This is not a good-government move, and Mike knows it.”
Another Bloomberg admirer, Councilwoman Gale A. Brewer, who has sided with the mayor on important issues like raising property taxes and his bid to impose a congestion pricing fee, said she and her Upper West Side constituents “love the mayor, but are against this process.”
Mr. Bloomberg, who once called an attempt to ease term limits “disgraceful,” is pushing legislation that would allow him, council members and most other elected city officials to serve three consecutive four-year terms rather than two. Allies say he has enough support to pass it on Thursday.
If he does prevail, the victory may carry a cost to his reputation.
The disenchantment with Mr. Bloomberg runs especially deep among his former aides and advisers at City Hall. In interviews, five of them said they had been surprised and unsettled by the mayor’s tactics. “It stinks of clubhouse politics,” said one former aide. “It’s not like him.”
Another said that when former Bloomberg staff members meet for drinks these days, and the topic turns to his third-term bid, “people roll their eyes and say they are glad to not be there anymore.”
The aides said that they had adopted Mr. Bloomberg’s vision and enlisted in his administration because they believed he was a transformational figure in New York politics.
Richard D. Emery, a civil rights and election lawyer who in the late 1980s helped dismantle the city’s Board of Estimate, which controlled much of the city’s spending, has strongly supported Mr. Bloomberg, describing him as a “terrific politician because he is not a politician.”
“Up until now, he has been a paradigm of what a municipal mayor should be,” Mr. Emery said, but watching Mr. Bloomberg’s heavy-handed approach to remaining in office has left him disaffected, he added.
“He is becoming a typical hack, playing the same old games,” he said. “It’s tragic and it’s sad.”
Friends who originally urged Mr. Bloomberg to seek a third term said he has been taken aback by the depth of the opposition, which has prompted him to engage in a bruising political style he is not entirely comfortable with.
“It has required slightly sharper elbows than anyone would have liked,” said one friend, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “This is not how he prefers to do business. He is not particularly happy with the situation.”
Mr. Bloomberg seems outwardly unperturbed by the criticism, casting his decision to seek a third term as an honorable act of public service. “There is nothing better than to try to make a difference, and if the public wants me, I would be honored to do it for four more years,” he said.
Asked if his aggressive campaign could injure his reputation, he said friends regularly told him that “if you walk away now, you can walk away with a stellar reputation as the world’s greatest mayor.”
“Even if it were true,” he said, “how can you walk away from something when you know there’s going to be tough times? The challenge is to do it now.”
Those frustrated by Mr. Bloomberg’s conduct acknowledge that he is well-equipped to manage New York City in a financial crisis, but they are dismayed by his decision to bypass voters, who remain in favor of the current term limits, according to polls.
In a torrent of e-mail messages and phone calls to members of the Council, voters have voiced their objections. Of the 600 messages sent to Ms. Brewer, for example, 75 percent oppose Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal, she said, even as they praise Mr. Bloomberg for his record on education, crime and city services.
“Power corrupts and as we are seeing now, he is not immune to this common human trait,” said one e-mail message, which added, “I do believe that Michael Bloomberg has done a good job.”
“He’s making a mockery of the system,” said another constituent, who noted that “he has been a relatively good administrator for the city.”
Aides to the mayor said the concept of a Bloomberg third term was supported by a large but silent group of New Yorkers who are not motivated to write their council members.
Jason Post, a spokesman for the mayor, said, “Remaining popular was not on his mind” when he decided to seek a third a term, “nor was it when he made decisions like supporting congestion pricing or the smoking ban.”
Mr. Bloomberg has been harshly criticized for striking a deal with Ronald S. Lauder, the billionaire cosmetics heir whose well-financed campaign helped create term limits in 1993. Fearing that Mr. Lauder would oppose him, Mr. Bloomberg promised to appoint him to a charter revision commission that could restore the two-term limit in 2010 and put the issue up for a voter referendum.
David Yassky, a council member from Brooklyn and a close ally of the mayor, said his constituents “very much don’t like the way he is going about changing term limits, and they especially don’t like the feeling that this is a deal among a narrow group of people. That sentiment is near universal.”
Mr. Yassky said 85 percent of the roughly 800 constituents he has heard from object to the mayor’s plan, even though they hold the mayor in high regard and dislike term limits. Like Ms. Brewer, Mr. Yassky has called for a referendum, rather than legislation, to decide whether to change term limits.
Many who are unhappy with the term limits campaign complain that Mr. Bloomberg and the City Council have only held two public hearings about the legislation and are quickly scheduling a vote on the bill in the midst of an intense presidential campaign and an economic crisis.
At those hearings, Mr. Bloomberg’s aides and allies asked groups that have received hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of his private donations to testify on his behalf, and allowed supporters to fill seats with people who did not plan to testify.
The mayor’s office said opponents employed similar tactics during the contentious hearings.
Mr. Bloomberg appeared to antagonize his critics over the last few days by saying he did not listen to any of the testimony and by describing many of the speakers at the hearings as “people who emote.” A majority opposed Mr. Bloomberg’s legislation.
Mr. Garth, the political consultant who worked for Mr. Bloomberg, said New Yorkers were discovering that a mayor they revere as the consummate political outsider is capable of disappointing them. “A part of Mike was always too good to be true. The guy makes very few mistakes for a mayor of a city like this. He has been unbelievably successful.”
Still, “there is an arrogance about the mayor, and people resent that.”