Yes, he’s doing it partly because his rich-guy friends stroked his ego, telling him how the city, in its darkest hours, desperately needs his singular talents and wisdom. Yes, he’s doing it because of the lack of compelling alternatives—someone even further outside the political mainstream ran away with the 2008 presidential election, and giving away billions of dollars, while noble, just can’t match the thrill ride of commanding a city of 8 million. And yes, the way he went about changing the rules in order to run for a third term was tawdry. But even if you hate his motives and his methods, you’ve got to give Mike Bloomberg credit for this: We have a mayor who is volunteering to take the worst abuse of his career. Bloomberg could have handed over the keys to City Hall a year from now after finishing what’s sure to be an exhausting, dispiriting 2009, and he’d likely walk away trailing editorial-board praise for competently guiding the city through the onset of a terrible recession, a nice addition to his legacy of smokeless restaurants and higher public school test scores. Instead of heading into platinum-plated retirement, though, Bloomberg will be running a $100 million reelection campaign just as unemployment skyrockets and the city gets dirtier, more dangerous, and less solvent. He’ll be asking us to judge him during the most far-reaching bad times to hit New York since at least the seventies, and maybe even the thirties. Yet recently, when Bloomberg had two chances to make life easier on himself, he’s refused to do the expedient political thing. He could have endorsed Barack Obama, an inexpensive way to score points with the city’s black voters, especially if Bloomberg ends up facing Bill Thompson in the mayoral race next fall; instead, Bloomberg stayed publicly neutral all the way through Election Day. And he could have allowed the $400 property-tax rebates to wing unchallenged into 600,000 mailboxes. Yet even if you allow for some political jujitsu on the second issue—stalling the rebates as deficits grow fortifies Bloomberg’s image as a guy who makes tough choices even when they’re unpopular—no amount of spin changes the fundamentals. Mike Bloomberg isn’t taking the easy way out. Even in the best of times, you need a masochistic streak to live in New York. Now, with the worst looming, it turns out the guy in charge of city government may have the biggest one of all.