By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
As I stood up at about noon from the weekend breakfast table where Allison and I were
arguing over the correct way to toast a scone yeah a scone: an English biscuit that
is dry and crumbly I said, "Im going to write my column."
Bill Thompson and Michael Schenkler.
Photo By Dee Richard
"Dont do politics, its boring,"
said my 12-year-old reader, daughter and critic.
I wanted to get started so I didnt stay to argue
I dont win that often anyway. But, I accept the challenge to convince Allison
that politics is, if not fun, interesting.
Obviously, she prefers my ramblings when they involve her,
places weve been or wanabee teenage girls take that Moo. (Moo: my nickname
for her derived from Mooshkie when 6 months old I would toy airplane-like whirl her
through the air as the "Flying Mooshkie." Well it stuck; at least the Moo did.)
A collection of cows of all types adorn her room, drawers, bookshelves and hidden places.
Cows are fun too. But politics makes you passionate. How
passionate can you get about cows?
Allisons plans today consist of Gayles party
(youll remember her from a couple of weeks ago) a movie and then a Chinese
restaurant celebration of some kind; followed by her friend Mikkis dance recital;
and finally back at Samanthas house where Lil and I will hang with Sams
parents until Allison ends her busy day.
"Moo, you mean, no time for politics?" I thought.
"No time" she thought back.
Im not avoiding the question and promise to return
soon, if not later on in this ramble. No, this is not a "tune in next
week" type thing. This is just a typical weekend day in my life. I want to write my
column because the weekdays are just too darn busy.
Ive got this Bill Thompson story I want to share. I
mean, last week I spent a couple of hours with the former Board of Education president who
wants to be comptroller and I enjoyed every minute of it. I want to tell you about it.
Actually, "I enjoy every minute of it," was
Bills response to my opening question about his first foray into politics as a
Bill Thompson is charming and engaging. He is glib and
quick and bright. He, unlike most of the other citywide candidates, answers all the
questions, although occasionally he went off the record.
With the mayoral candidate interviews, I knew what to
expect. I had met them all and had previously spent time chatting with them. I often have
a clear image of who candidates are or might be. But not with Bill Thompson.
We had met once or twice. We chatted briefly at Queens
Borough Hall when Terri Thomson (seriously, no relation they spell their names
differently) was installed as Queens Board of Education member. Weve been in the
same room at dinners, along with hundreds of other people. And you cant get to know
a person well from reading written interviews or hearing 30 second sound bites.
Give me a couple of hours in my office, and I know if I
like you. I know what youre all about. Allow me to ask the questions and Ill
find out who you are.
I had that time with Bill.
Bill Thompson is good people. He is open and honest and
I like him. Allison would like him, too. The three of us
could hang out together, if Allison would accept the fact that wed some spend time
Bill was brought up in politics in the Brooklyn Democratic
organization where his father was a heavyweight, serving as councilman, state senator and
recently retired as an appellate court judge. A product of the NYC school system and a
Tufts University grad, Bill served in the office of a Brooklyn congressman, became deputy
borough president, worked as an investment banker, and was appointed by Brooklyn Beep
Howie Goldin to the Board of Ed. in 1994. He followed Queens Carol Gresser as
president of the Board. After almost five years as prez, he recently resigned to run for
Ive chatted with him and read his standard campaign
speech hes qualified.
He understands the job and has the ability to be an
effective chief financial officer. Hell watch the pension funds, utilize the audit
process and continue to influence policy by using pension funds to improve economic
development and provide housing.
Bill Thompson will be a comptroller activist. He wants to
help determine the direction of our city.
He is not afraid to speak out. Unlike some candidates who
Ive interviewed, he spoke proudly of his support for the Queens Board of Education
members when they disagreed with Rudy Giuliani and then felt the wrath of Claire Shulman.
"I went to see Claire on Carol [Gressers]
behalf," and then also spoke with superlatives about the growth, courage and
dedication of Terri Thomson.
He was critical of those that use public resources for
campaigns, "if it looks political" you dont do it with public funds, he
said, commenting on his decision not to send out a Board of Ed. newsletter once he became
He thinks his opponent, Council Finance Chair Herb Berman
who is clearly leading in the fundraising category is "a decent
guy." But Thompson said he would be, "a more representative, more aggressive
comptroller, with a different perspective."
He recalled his first meeting as Board of Ed. Prez with
Governor Pataki who opened the session by asking, "What can I do for you that
doesnt cost money?"
"The education system was dysfunctional.
Decentralization was a disaster," beleived Thompson and he shared his thoughts with
the governor. The Posts editorial page editor Eric Breindel and the Daily
News publisher Mort Zuckerman were both present. The two newspapermen went back and
began advocating the need to centralize power in the office of the chancellor. Thompson
put together a coalition, and school governance reform ultimately was enacted.
And now, Thompson believes, that educators can be held
accountable, schools and scores will continue to improve incrementally. He cites the
school governance reform as his biggest triumph at the Board of Ed.
Bill was precise and analytical, he was warm and
Allison, how boring can politics be when you get to hang
out with guys like Bill Thompson?
I probably should have left the interview with the word
"education" as the issue, and "change" as the mission that Thompson
sees for his future role in improving this city.
But I left with two other thoughts.
First, Bill Thompson is my kind of people.
Second, this guy, Bill Thompson, may just have what it
takes to be Mayor eight years from now.
Thirty-five Years Later
It was a week for old friends.
Wednesday was with Alan Hevesi and Thursday night I had the privilege of attending the
2001 Queens College Q Award Gala at the Marriott Marquis.
Lil and I sat with the dinner chair and Chairman of the Queens College Foundation, my
old friend and college fraternity brother Steve Gerard and his wife Jane.
We had a great time and in between Steves emceeing obligations, got a chance to
catch up. Steve and I have kept in touch over the years, but we dont see each other
as often as I would like to. Remarkably, like Hevesi, Steve too had aged. It must be
something about my old friends.
But this is not a reunion column. I was inspired by Steves remarks about the
evening and the college and want to share them with you.
Excerpted from the opening remarks by Queens College Foundation Chairmans
Steve Gerard at the Queens College Gala:
"Tonight is an opportunity to showcase our college, the successes of our
graduates, the teaching and scholarly excellence of our faculty, the tireless efforts of
our administration and most importantly, the enormous strength and capability of our
"This Gala not only honors achievement but also exposes the college and our
students to the business community. It introduces to the business world 15,000 students
from 120 different countries speaking 66 languages.
"Forty-four percent of our freshman class was not born in the United States. More
than 50 percent of our students are ethnic minorities and more than 50 percent are women.
Three quarters of the students hold either a full or part time job.
"We are a college which upholds a liberal arts tradition and provides the profit
and non-profit businesses with skilled, thoughtful, capable and aggressive graduates
yearning to learn and grow."
Steves remarks went on, as did the evening. The memories of honorees like Nat
Leventhal (class of 63) former Deputy Mayor and President Emeritus of Lincoln Center
and Lee Fensterstock (class of 68) Chairman and CEO of Bonds Direct were not unlike
The common theme of each speaker and a brief film was the marvelous quality education
received by us all for little or nominal fee. We watched the growth from the 30s
when a semester cost $5 to the late 60s when it escalated to a steep $34 per.
Today it is substantially more but still a quality education at a very reasonable
price. The Foundation provides "scholarships and academic, technological and research
I saw quite a number of old friends, chatted with Russell Hotzler and his delightful
wife and had a great time.
Ive written a check to my alma mater. Why dont you?