By Daniel Trotta
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's political fortunes have declined during his third term, although speculation about his future has not.
City voters have turned on the independent, with a Quinnipiac University poll on Wednesday showing a 51 percent majority disapprove of his performance and 39 percent approve -- his lowest rating since November 2003.
The once popular Bloomberg, who flirted with a run for president in 2008, came under heavy criticism for a botched city cleanup of a December 26-27 blizzard that left many neighborhoods buried under snow for days.
Many believe Bloomberg was out of town for the holiday. The mayor refuses to account for his whereabouts.
Despite that and other political misfires, the billionaire founder of the financial news and information company that bears his name has been mentioned as a possible senator, governor or Cabinet secretary.
He dismisses such talk, denies he will run for president, and says he will dedicate himself to philanthropy when his final mayoral term expires at the end of 2013.
"Is it the snow, the third-term blahs, the weekends away, the presidential chatter? Whatever the explanation, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's once-upon-a-time stretch of 70-plus job approval has gone south," Quinnipiac polling director Maurice Carroll said in a statement.
Bloomberg ran for a third term in 2009 after pushing the City Council to overturn a voter-approved term limits law.
"Two years ago, Mike Bloomberg was telling New Yorkers they couldn't survive without him having a third term. Now New Yorkers seem to be wondering whether they can survive a third term," said Randy Mastro, a lawyer and former deputy mayor.
'MAKING TOUGH CHOICES'
A Bloomberg spokesman defended the mayor's performance. "The mayor is making tough choices in a difficult time, which is what people elected him to do," spokesman Stu Loeser said.
Bloomberg, 69, is worth $18 billion, Forbes estimates, and spent more than $260 million of his own money on his three mayoral campaigns.
Brian Darling, director of government relations at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said he saw a "minimal future" for Bloomberg in presidential politics because of his advocacy for stricter enforcement of gun laws.
"Anyone who embraces gun control as strongly as Bloomberg has is doomed as a presidential candidate," Darling said, adding the poll showed Bloomberg's New York support was soft.
"He doesn't have passionate followers. His support runs an inch deep," Darling said.
Former New York Mayor Ed Koch remains a big Bloomberg supporter and predicted the mayor's poll numbers would recover. He suggested Bloomberg, who appears to have a good relationship with President Barack Obama, might only need a constituency of one.
"Any president who is looking for the best in the field of economics would appoint him as secretary of the treasury," Koch said.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by John Whitesides)