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The trick is so old it has become new again: asking a co-worker to spring you from an unwanted business meeting via an "emergency" phone call. Now, though, a cellphone partnership in Australia is offering it as a service for any subscriber out on a boring date. Virgin Mobile Group and Optus Ltd. have introduced a feature that allows a customer to press three numbers on the keypad discreetly and then pocket the phone without a word. Sixty seconds later, the phone will ring and a voice at the other end will have "a perfect excuse" for ending the evening early. By the way, follow-up research shows women are twice as likely as men to use the tactic.

'Mayor Mike': the latest of Big Apple's political stars

As the nation's largest city and business and media capital, New York confers celebrity status on whoever presides in City Hall. Billionaire businessman (and converted Democrat) Michael Bloomberg, founder of the financial news service that bears his name, is the current occupant and he aims to keep it that way. Last week, he kicked off his re-election campaign at blues guitarist B.B. King's nightclub in Times Square, where he asked supporters for their commitment and dedication - but not their money. As in 2001, when he spent $74 million of his own funds to win his first elective office, Bloom-berg vows another self- financed campaign. The last 10 mayors of the Big Apple, their party affiliations, and their years in office:

Fiorello LaGuardia (R) 1934-45

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William O'Dwyer (D) 1946-50
Vincent Impellitteri (Ind.) 1950-53
Robert Wagner (D) 1954-65
John Lindsay (R/D) 1966-73
Abraham Beame (D) 1974-77
Edward Koch (D) 1978-89
David Dinkins (D) 1990-93
Rudolph Giuliani (R) 1994-2001
Michael Bloomberg (R) 2002-2005
- www.nyc.gov

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