You can’t tell Comptroller Bill Thompson anything right now…
He is the man! To hear this jovial dude tell it, losing last week’s mayoral election by a mere 4.6 points to billionaire over-spender Michael Bloomberg makes HIM the man and solidifies his position as a power player not to be underestimated, you dig? Seemingly completely optimistic, Thompson urged the disillusioned to “get involved. You just saw what happened when you do get involved.”
While much of the city is still trying to drag itself out of the doldrums and is stuck on “what if?,” this Brooklyn-born public servant told the Amsterdam News that the 4.6 percent point loss notwithstanding, “I feel good. Still up. I haven’t really been down. The only time you were really down was after it was clear that you’d lost about 10.30 or so.”
Efforts to detect a hint of vexation were unsuccessful. This guy is good.
“We just ran against a two-term incumbent with complete 100 percent name recognition, who spent more money than anyone in the history of this nation, probably more than in any statewide race, more than in some other presidential races – and you came within four and half points of beating him.”
But what of the dithering and sometimes absent Democrats, who just did nothing or little to assist his campaign?
“There are a bunch of them who are sitting there kicking themselves now,” Thompson declared with an almost I-told-you-so air. “In spite of what everybody might have predicted, most Democrats endorsed and got on board.
“There’s a lot of people who just didn’t believe, who just couldn’t see past the polls, who just didn’t see the possibilities, who didn’t understand the electorate and the people they represent. I’ve been saying for months that New Yorkers indicated they wanted to go in a different direction, they wanted change. And I know there is a number of people who will say, ‘Well, what do you expect him to say?’ People who said, ‘Well, if you can just keep it under 10 points, it’s a victory. I said ‘Ah ah. It’s not a victory, I can win this election.’”
When did you know that?
“From when I first decided to run, we were looking at our poll numbers, and when you make a decision to run, you looked at the poll numbers. You realized that some of this was a leap of faith, that Mike Bloomberg was going to spend more money than anyone had ever seen before–and he did. But early on, both the sense you got with the polls and then from the people out in the streets in the neighborhoods across the City of New York indicated that they were tired of him and wanted to go in a different direction.”
Election night made nail-biters out of grown men. Within the hour of polls closing, a number of news organizations called the election for Bloomberg. That didn’t change even at 10 p.m. when the numbers came out as Bloomberg with 49 percent and Thompson at 48 percent. Ultimately, by 11 p.m., the figures were announced as Bloomberg at 50.5 percent and Thompson at 46.2 percent.
In the hour after the polls closed, Thompson said that he and his people were eagerly watching the results come in. “The New York Times, channel 4 and channel 7 had called the election and we were like, ‘Based on what?’ We were getting the numbers directly from the Board of Elections, and at 21 percent [of the precincts reporting], 1,000 points separated us, so we didn’t know what they were talking about. By 10:30, 10:45 p.m., then we knew. We thought about how many votes separated the two of us, and how many paper ballots? How many affidavit ballots? How many absentee ballots? It was clear at that point–you couldn’t make that up.”
So with a mere 51,000 to 52,000 votes separating the two candidates in the dismally low turnout of 25 percent, the Amsterdam News asked about the possibility of several thousand votes being found for Thompson.
“The Board of Elections is going to go back,” he said. “They are going to recount anyway and re-tabulate, and re-total.”
Bill Thompson seems unflappable, but on Election Night with a four-point differential, was the tirade unprintable? “It was Eddie [Castell, Thompson’s campaign manager] and myself in the room going ‘darn!’”
“Darn”? Like gee whiz, gosh-darn-it “darn”?
“Well, that’s not the language exactly,” he grinned. “We flipped out for about 15 minutes and said, ‘What if this had happened?’ That was right afterwards and then you said, ‘This is not helpful.’ You’re not going to go back and relive things.
“I always believed it was going to be close.”
The greatest political upset in this city didn’t happen because some people couldn’t see the possibilities, Thompson told the AmNews.
Evidently, the President Barack Obama buzz dissipated?
“I think that was unique and unto itself and last year was about Barack, but it was more than him–it was a movement. You had some of it, but then there were some people who got involved, who only started to get involved then, but as far as energy and other things, you got a lot of people who got involved.”
The paper asked why his campaign did not capitalize on Obama’s endorsement–lukewarm though it appeared, and why didn’t Obama come down the turnpike during one of his three New Jersey stops for Gov. Jon Corzine and campaign with him?
“It would have been nice, but that didn’t happen. His choice.”
That’s it? No real feeling about the nation’s top Democrat not reaching out to what would have been New York City’s top Democrat? “The president didn’t.”
Had he done so, would it have pushed his numbers over the edge?
“And do what? Go ‘Aah!’”
“You had his endorsement and the photo, and you made the best of it. The fact that we were sitting there hugging each other, I don’t think that would have changed anything. It doesn’t necessarily drive people out. It doesn’t hurt you; it helps you, but thousands of people wouldn’t have been rushing out.”
Agreeing to disagree then, Thompson said he contemplated other reasons why people stayed home on Election Day:
“Some of them believing the press, that kept my voters at home, the inevitability, ‘Gee, I saw the newspaper said he was up by 18 points.’ I don’t think anyone will take that for granted again.”
Two weeks before the election, Thompson’s own pollster Geoffrey Garin said that the difference between the candidates was very close, two to seven points. “It got a day’s worth of play, then it was gone. Garin is nationally recognized and much better than Quinnipiac or Marist.” but I think all the negative ads, all that does is turn people off, so when you see $50 million worth of negative ads, all that does is, people kind of go ‘Eugh!’”
The Amsterdam News asked the questions that have the people buzzing: Who are you mad at? Who betrayed you?
Always the diplomat, Thompson replied, “I don’t know if anyone betrayed me. During the campaign, and after the campaign, I focused more on who helped, who was there. I focused more on the positive. You know, there were thousands of people who volunteered, and there were thousands of people who contributed. You can look at our last three-week filing period, and I think we had 3,000 contributors–$10, $20, $5. We had people who donated a dollar, you know. But you explained that matching funds are important, and that their contributions would be matched on a 9-1 basis. In the long run, we raised over $900,000 to a million dollars in matchables. It was fabulous.”
Bloomberg sunk over a $100 million into his third-term re-election bid. Thompson, who is not a billionaire, said, “On the campaign, we probably raised something in the vicinity of $9 million, but in just that two or three weeks, you saw thousands of small contributors. It was important; it was helpful.”
The Amsterdam News continued that we have to ask about “The Three Amigos,” as Councilman Charles Barron labeled ministers Calvin Butts, Floyd Flake and A.R. Bernard–all of whom endorsed the mayor.
“I still think it’s not a question of who helped me.” Thompson deftly dodged the possibility of controversy. “Did they help Mike Bloomberg? I don’t think they did. No matter who the ministers were that endorsed him, I think the congregations are perfectly capable of independent decision making.”
Okay, so what of the unions, like 1199 and the UFT, who didn’t do much of anything by way of support?
“Yeah, but you look at unions like DC 37, the firefighters and Stew Applebaum’s union and a number of others were out there and were engaged on a regular basis,” Thompson retorted. “Look at DC 37, which had one office for their members in each borough. You don’t look at who sat it out; you look at who got involved and how much they contributed. So it wasn’t who didn’t campaign–I’m looking at who did.”
When ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani campaigned with Bloomberg in Borough Park and inferred that a vote for Thompson could result in a Crown Heights riot situation, the city was incensed and jumped all other the both of them. Why didn’t you?
“If you go back and look at my comments, and see what I said,” Thompson offered, “the only other thing I could have said was what? ‘He played the race card’? I mean, other people said that. I talked about Giuliani and Bloomberg both playing the politics of fear and the politics of division. So I didn’t ignore it. There were other electeds who got out there and picked up on it, who pointed out what they thought those comments were.”
Asked if he was a “gentlemen candidate,” a mild-mannered opponent, Bill Thompson replied, “I don’t think I’d be considered a gentlemen candidate. If you go back and look at the debates, they weren’t gentlemanly.”
So how’s about a mayoral run in 2013?
“Don’t know yet,” Thompson smirked, refusing to take the bait. “There’s so much I have to figure out, and I’ve got a little less than two months here. I’m not looking at anything yet. I’m really not. I’ve got to move in a direction over the next two weeks and see what I am going to do.”
As for rumors about running against Kirsten Gillibrand, he said ditto.
The city’s No. 1 bean counter could run for the same job for the state–it’s up for grabs…
“State comptroller is something that everybody keeps throwing at me,” Thompson acknowledged, adding, “Tom DiNapoli is a good friend of mine.”
He was adamant about being as vague as he could be, but the AmNews persisted. A job in the Bloomberg administration?
“No, absolutely, no!” he fired back with more passion than a little bit. But what if Bloomberg looked at last week’s poll numbers and decided to offer you the best job ever, saying something like, “Bill, it would be a good luck for me. I don’t have any Black people in my administration apart from Dennis. I’ve got a great position for you…”
“No.” Thompson was emphatic. “Positive.”
Commissioner of something? Nicholas Scoppetta is leaving …
“I just had a job where I kept commissioners on their toes,” Thompson declared, puffing out his chest just a little. “Never.”
As for the new City Comptroller John Liu, Thompson couldn’t be more enthusiastic, stating that he and his staff will be working with his transition team. “[We] will help John as much as we can.”
Thompson thanked his campaign staff “for a job well done–from the strategists to the field people. You talk to some of them and they were really proud of the job they did, some they realize that they were outspent, but their level of commitment and energy and principled work was not matched by the other side.”
Asked would he do anything different, Thompson replied, “No. I wouldn’t. Would I like to have raised more money? But it wasn’t to be. Another million and a half dollars [we would have done] more mail, field and TV.”
With a little fire in his rhetoric, Thompson mentions Bloomberg’s overturning term limits via legislation and not another referendum.
“I think that the term limit issue was one where people felt insulted. He broke his word to the people of New York City. He did what he promised he’d never do. He went to the City Council to undermine the will of the voters. So this issue resonated with the people. They were mad and angry about it. If you wanted to change, you should have gone back to the people.”
Sounds like he is still upset about it, the paper suggested. “I just thought it was wrong. I am a lifelong New Yorker–we’d expect that in some other place around the world…”
With no mandate and almost half of the active electorate voting against the incumbent, Thompson said, “If I were in his shoes, I would listen to the people who indicated that they want to go in a different direction: a city that has a mayor who listens to the people. New Yorkers want to have someone who will focus on their needs. Middle class and working New Yorkers want to have someone who will stand up and fight for them.”
Thompson added, “If there’s regret it’s not being able to change the city in the way you wanted to,” Thompson conceded. “I’m sure I’ll see things and say ‘This is wrong, I would not have done it that way.’ That is where you run into regret. Not for what happened, but for what could have happened.
“I’ve never been a person who sits down and looks at the past and says ‘If only we’d done this differently.’ You did the best that you could and I was proud of my campaign.”