By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
I like Bill Thompson!
No, thatís not an
endorsement for mayor ó it is exactly how I feel each time I get to
spend some time chatting with New York Cityís Comptroller.
I have met hundreds of City
players throughout the years, and like in any other walk of life, you see
a broad spectrum of personalities. In that broad spectrum, Bill Thompson
stands out as a guy who Iíd like as a friend Ė as a matter of fact, I
consider him one.
Trib Publisher Mike Schenkler and City Comptroller Bill Thompson.
Now, though itís clearly not
an endorsement, folks who I consider friends are usually near the top of
my list when Iím making my picks. The qualities that attract you to a
person in friendship really should apply when evaluating someone for
Itís gut: Are they honest?
Straightforward? Compassionate? Intelligent? Do they care for the less
fortunate? Communicate well? See the bigger picture? Relate to others?
Listen? Speak with authority? Grasp the major issues? Are they analytical?
And, are they fun?
Everytime I walk away from a
meeting with Bill, I know Iíve been with someone who has a lot to offer.
He fits those quickly-rattled-off criteria perfectly. Heís all those
things and more.
Bill is a child of this city.
His heart and soul are products of the Cityís public arena. Bill knows
New York and is one hell of a nice guy.
Bill, the 42nd Comptroller of
the City of New York, took office on Jan. 1, 2002. Heís a lifelong New
Yorker, the son of a judge and public school teacher and is the product of
New York City public schools.
Bill attended P.S. 161, Hudde
Junior High School and is a graduate of Brooklynís Midwood High School.
He graduated from Tufts University and, upon his return to New York in
1974, joined the staff of a congressman, whom he eventually served as
Chief of Staff.
In 1983, Thompson was
appointed Brooklynís youngest-ever Deputy Borough President by Brooklyn
Beep Howard Golden.
In 1994, Bill was appointed to
the New York City Board of Education as its Brooklyn member and, in 1996,
began the first of five consecutive terms as its President. He also served
as a Senior Vice President for Public Finance at an investment-banking
firm in the early 1990s.
Bill lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant
with his wife and daughter.
Now Iíve never met Mrs. Bill
or his daughter, but I have the solid feeling theyíre good people.
I checked back to the first
column I wrote about Bill on June 21, 2001 when he was running for
Comptroller, and was not surprised with its headline: "Allison Would
Like Bill Thompson."
Allison my 14 year-old ó
back then 12 Ė is not a bad judge of people. So I guess that was my
initial response to my first interview session with Bill ó nothing
different this time.
RUNNING FOR MAYOR?
I couldnít resist; Bill sat
down and I asked, "So youíre running for Mayor?"
A friend, yes, but a
politician most definitely: Bill didnít reveal much.
He "doesnít know"
if heís going to run. But, "part of being an elected official is
being visible," Bill explained, so he is out there "doing
everything he needs to as if he were a candidate."
Bill faces a potential
Democratic Mayoral Primary against former Bronx Beep Freddy Ferrer,
Council Speaker Giff Miller, Queens-Brooklyn Congressman Anthony Weiner
and Queens Assemblyman and labor leader Brian McLaughlin.
With casual confidence, Bill
indicates that the primary is the easy race, and perhaps correctly assumes
that if he enters the Democratic Mayoral Primary, he will be the winner.
The race against the Mayor and his money is another story for Thompson.
Now, we went off and back on
the record quite a bit at this point in our chat, but let me comfortably
relate some impressions.
Bill likes Mike Bloomberg. He
believes him to be smart and honorable.
We have a "good
relationship," Bill told us. They meet regularly and even went to the
World Series together. "You can talk to Mike. Iíve never had a
problem. . .The disagreements that weíve had have been really substance
Since Bloomberg is above the
slippery slope of political fundraising, Bill believes he clearly takes
his actions by what he thinks is best for the city. But, Bill feels, the
Mayor doesnít listen as well as he should.
Iím sure my friend Bill
Thompson will deny it, but I could see this lifelong Democrat in the
voting booth pulling the Republican lever for the Mayor ó that is, if he
isnít the candidate against him.
Bill says he will make a
decision on whether to run for Mayor in October or November.
"You have to [by then]
because of the money," Bill explained. "Iíve been visible for
the last two years . . . Iíve maintained a campaign schedule, so it wonít
be a big adjustment for me." My friend Bill was sounding more and
more like a candidate.
BILL ON EDUCATION
"Do you mind the
abuse," I asked of the less than gentle treatment elected officials
often get while at public meetings or campaigning.
"Abuse is being at the
Board of Ed. This is 50 steps up," Bill said of serving as City
He really enjoyed his tenure
as President of the BOE because "I really thought I made an
And our discussion quickly
left politics and wound up with both our second loves ó education. He
believes itís too early to say if the new Bloomberg school system
overhaul will work, but expressed concern that "there is no
process." The radical changes by the Mayor and Chancellor left little
institutional knowledge. There are now young bureaucrats without
sufficient background making decisions intead of older bureaucrats.
Bill liked the idea of change
but explains, "I still would have maintained a real board that would
have been able to deal and vote on policy issues." Citing the new
reading curriculum as one such "policy issue," Bill elaborated,
"There is not an empirical study that shows that it works. There are
studies that show that other things work."
He said, "Right now the
DOE is not accountable to anyone." He used the Snapple deal as an
example of "no process." A $40 million contract was signed, and
Thompson the Comptroller didnít know about it until it was a done deal.
The deal he insists was done by "word of mouth."
In no way suggesting any
wrongdoing, Bill maintained, "There has to be a system that allows
for process . . . That way, we protect ourselves from corruption."
BACK TO POLITICS
And if the Mayoral run is not
in the cards, Bill sounded comfortable: "Iíve done a good job and I
should get re-elected."
Responding to my question
about Speaker Millerís push to modify the campaign finance rules, which
will benefit him and the Speaker, Bill said: "Itís hard to change
the rules when it appears to benefit you . . . I think thatís not what
you want to do. Iím against that. . . You have to be careful of the
message you send . . . even if itís right philosophically."
On the Governorís race:
"Elliot [Spitzer] is an excellent candidate. Chuck [Schumer] has been
excellent." He thinks Schumer and Giuliani are both running. He said,
"They wouldnít [want to run against each other] but they both want
to be governor."
But the real race on my mind
(and Iím sure Billís) is his potential Mayoral run.
Bill intends to carefully look
at the Mayorís numbers and if half the people donít want Mayor Mike
back, then Bill intends to be in the race and win. Actually, if the Mayor
looks like he wonít win, can Bill Thompson afford to allow another
Democrat to come along and claim Gracie Mansion?
Cognizant that he would be
term limited out of office four years after the election and lose his shot
if another Dem was in, Bill just smiled when I suggested he might not work
too hard for a Bloomberg opponent. His words of praise for Freddy Ferrer
and others didnít speak as loudly as the image of the parade potentially
passing him by.
Bill Thompson wonít let that
happen. His belief that he is the likely winner of the Democratic Primary
will have Bill as Mayoral candidate Thompson if Mayor Mike is vulnerable.
Based on todayís numbers,
Bill is in training for the marathon.
And from my column of three
years ago, I recall: "This guy, Bill Thompson, may just have what it
takes to be Mayor eight years from now."
Things move fast in this City.
Make that eight a four and get ready for the ride.
Michael Schenkler can be
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