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Suggestions that New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's term of office be extended are understandable, given the inspirational leadership he has shown in the wake of the devastation in Manhattan last week. Excuse us for suggesting how New York City should run its affairs, but enacting permanent changes in government ought never to be made in extraordinary times under unparalleled pressure.

Terrorists should not be able to alter the rules of law, and that would be the consequence of allowing Giuliani, whose second term expires Dec. 31, to continue governing the city. Elected officials are barred by the city charter from serving more than two terms.

The effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are being felt in many ways. The human toll is numbing, financial markets are down, the airline industry is in a quandary and lawmakers face the task of funding relief efforts while normal business is put on hold.

The last thing needed is a precedent-setting gesture such as extending Giuliani's term. There is, however, a good alternative. Giuliani should be strongly considered to head the efforts to rebuild New York City, a job for which he's perfectly suited. He has earned renewed respect from all corners of the city -- and the country -- for his tireless efforts during this national nightmare. Covered in soot from the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, Giuliani kept going. And he has remained on 24-hour watch ever since.

The man who spent his two terms in office cracking down on quality-of-life issues in the city -- making enemies in the process -- has emerged a hero, even to his harshest critics.

Giuliani has demonstrated unquestionable leadership, and that will be his legacy as mayor. But it is time for him to pass the mantle. This is the protocol upon which New York City law is based, and that's the protocol that should be honored, even in extraordinary times such as these.

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