Bill Thompson grew up on Putnam Avenue between Stuyvesant and Malcolm X Blvd. The journey from those streets to being elected City Comptroller in 2001, managing a staff of more than 700 with a budget of $68 million and being overwhelmingly reelected in 2005, is a long one with middle-class struggles, and successes achieved by hard work. It is a journey that has attuned Comptroller Thompson to the problems that the middle class and middle class aspirants feel every day. It has also given him the confidence to use the strategy necessary for this mayoral battle. “The only way to compete with the richest man in New York City is to build from the ground up. If you’re going to get into a dollar battle, you’re going to lose very quickly.”
Thompson was speaking at a fund-raiser in the UN Plaza home of Edward Bergman and his family, high above the East River and about as far from Putnam Avenue as you can get. Here, Bill Thompson was speaking about education and the need to go in a different direction. “Our young people are being taught to take standardized tests,” he said. “Our children are not taught critical thinking. They’re not taught comprehension. Not taught the skills they will need in the future. We’re being given a false sense of accomplishment and all it is leading to is that our children are not being taught to compete.”
Bill Thompson has an empathy with ordinary people that Mayor Bloomberg feels can be achieved by riding the subway four or five times a week. But the Brooklyn Papers reported that in their interview with the Mayor, they asked about community benefit agreements, such as that signed by Bruce Ratner for the Atlantic Yards Project. “I’m violently opposed to community benefits agreements,” the mayor replied. “A small group of people, to feather their own nests, extort money from the developer? That’s just not good government.” This statement alone disqualifies him as a choice for Mayor of New York City. Here he is the richest man in New York, oblivious to the irony of his being “violently opposed” to small groups of unemployed Black men, many living pressed in by the explosion of construction in downtown Brooklyn, feathering their public housing nests, by demanding the opportunity to do hard work.
He accuses them of extortion for insisting that developers of the gilded city rising only blocks away, put aside a portion of contracts and work for local people and companies. He has $16 billion dollars, but helping someone bring home a paycheck for rent, food and clothing is “not good government.” His concept of good government would have met with a vigorous nod of approval from Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France who, the apocryphal story goes, when told the starving masses had no bread, thought she’d be cute and said, “Let them eat cake.” True or not, it was 1793 during the French Revolution and the people objected to the haughty attitude and the lady lost her head.
The mayor’s team seems to have lost their collective heads as well or they must have read something in the polls saying it won’t be a double-digit win, to risk bringing in Rudy Giuliani, the biggest loser in the Republican presidential primaries, and someone anathema to the African-American community, to campaign with the mayor. Giuliani knows as much now as when he snickered at the Republican Convention at the thought of a “community organizer” becoming president.
Rudy’s connecting an election of William Thompson with a probable rise in crime and Bloomberg, frankly dishearteningly, going further, saying that New York can go the way of Detroit if Thompson were elected, was certainly the most offensive local politicking we’ve seen in some time. Why does a billionaire have to resort to running a morally bankrupt campaign? Maybe it is as former mayor David Dinkins said at the Manhattan fundraiser, they have forgotten the great Negro Baseball League player Satchel Paige’s admonition, “Don’t look back, they may be gaining on you.”
I don’t know what the calculus is here, perhaps the old tactic of tricking poor whites that they and the plantation owners share a bond, but it is certainly dismissive of the Black vote and those who would rather have the men of the neighborhood going to and from work rather than standing around chronically unemployed. The mayor’s office has to become centered on the problems of regular working people and those who want to be working, and the city budget has to be used to not only deliver services but to circulate in the communities that need them most, lifting the quality of life for all New Yorkers. It’s time for the Bloomberg era to come to a close. Polls open 6am, November 3rd. Every vote counts.