With an “always bet on Black” swagger of a cool, calm and confident New Yorker, City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr., assured the AmNews that he is getting in, and staying in the next year’s mayoral race.
“This is it. I’m not thinking about it, I’m not debating it. I am running for mayor next year. I firmly believe I can win,” he said simply. “I want to stand for the people. New Yorkers are scrambling to make ends meet. I don’t think [Mayor Bloomberg] understands the people.”
The statewide fiscal crisis notwithstanding, Thompson insists that Gov. David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg need to apply the cuts with a scalpel, not an ax, as “New York is confronting the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.”
In response to Paterson’s proposed budget for 2009-10, announced on Tuesday, Thompson said, “I am troubled that the package of cuts and revenue enhancements being offered to the city will result in a net regressive impact on city residents. For example, the loss of $656 million in state revenue sharing aid between this year and next will force additional city budget cuts on top of the significant reductions that already are being contemplated.”
He added that the administration and legislature must close a $1.75 billion deficit in this year’s $120.8 billion budget and a $13.3 billion one in next year’s. The comptroller estimates that 170,000 jobs will be lost in New York City from July 2008 through late 2010.
The impact of the recession on the fiscal year 2009 budget, Thompson determined, includes: a $525 million shortfall in real estate-related taxes, a $345 million reduction in personal income and business taxes and $65 million less in property taxes than projected by the mayor. Moreover, he declared, “The uncertainty of the City Council’s reception to cancel the property tax rebate and rescind the 7 percent property tax reduction six months earlier than previously scheduled poses an additional risk of $832 million in fiscal year
All this being said, Thompson neatly deflects nay-sayers like Pres. George Bush ducks flying size 10s. “I am going to run for mayor next year,” Thompson repeated firmly.
He insisted that neither Bloomberg’s billions nor his incumbency will deter him. “The reason why I’m running is not because of him,” Thompson told the AmNews. “New York is going through difficult times; people are suffering; they are being laid off. It is important that the city has a mayor who understands what the people are going through.”
With a moment’s thought, he added, “I don’t think [Mayor Bloomberg] understands the people. I think he understands very few people. But he broke his commitment to the people when he went before the City Council to overturn term limits. It was disgraceful, and I think he broke his pact with the people of New York City. Rather than supporting our interests, he supported his own self-interest.”
He said the un-grandiose “one final hearing,” during a rapidly sped-through process–with the underlying understanding being that the mayor’s mind was made up– “was an insult to the people of New York. I thought the whole process was insulting. He had already worked things out with Ron Lauder in a back room.”
Asked if he was offended as a resident of the city or as a politico with eager ambitions, the Bed-Stuy native told the paper, “I was insulted as a New Yorker. Polls showed that…the people wanted to have their say. Term limits came from them, and then they reaffirmed their decision a second time; and now the mayor is bending and changing the rules without going back to them.”
While some city council-members and supporters of term limits are in court, challenging Bloomberg’s desire to stay in office for an extra four years, Thompson said certain city councilmembers were targeted. “People were being pressured and threatened throughout the whole time,” he said. “The question should have gone back to the community.” People came out in huge numbers for the election, said the comptroller, predicting a long-term after affect. “Everyone saw what the people can do. President-elect Obama built a grassroots movement, and New Yorkers came out. The people were empowered, changing the course of the country,” Thompson noted. “I think it inspired the people.” A peeved people can be a motivated-to-action people. The comptroller said, “People are watching the budget cuts and seeing that they are not equitable. [Bloomberg] is talking about closing more senior centers, but this is not to save money, but just the mayor’s vision of what senior citizens should be.”
Thompson has just launched a petition drive and called on City Hall and the Department for the Aging (DFTA) to withdraw the Request for Proposal (RFP) for Congregate Programs for Older Adults.
“I demand that City Hall and DFTA immediately withdraw their misguided plan to restructure senior centers,” Thompson said. “I have launched this petition drive to mobilize concerned citizens who want an outlet to express their disapproval of this plan.” Senior citizen centers are not just halls where elder members of the community hang out, but places where people were able to go to meet friends, to have a life line, “otherwise they would not leave their homes.”
Thompson said that the dire economy is hitting the people hard.
“Then there’s the $400 rebate. Mayor Bloomberg is talking about the property tax and rolling back the 7 percent.”
Speaking just before Paterson delivered his dire tax and cut budget, Thompson told the AmNews, “We have been tightening belts, and they have been making cuts since January [of] this year. We have got to be careful. There have been two rounds of cuts, and there’s about to be a third, where there is talk of making cuts to the police and fire departments. We have to protect those most vulnerable to run into hard times, and the state hasn’t even started to make cuts yet.”
With a $15 billion deficit, he said, “Everyone is trying to move forward to reduce the deficit. But there can’t just be cuts, we have got to talk about increasing taxes.”
The millionaires’ tax? “Yes, we will be revisiting taxing millionaires.” He added, “The city has been a lot more restrained than the state.”
While the city has undergone cuts and efforts to be more stringent, the state has increased expenditures. “People are struggling; how do you increase spending? The state has to reduce spending. Gov. Paterson has been talking to the legislature about spending. You have to cut waste and excess spending.”
Asked about cuts to education, Thompson said it was not as draconian as first appears. “Betsy Gotbaum has released a report which shows that the Department of Education has $130 million for new testing. Children don’t need more testing from kindergarten through to first to second grade. Then, the DOE can make cuts to the bloated salaries and contracts and other areas.”
On Tuesday in response to Paterson’s budget announcement, Thompson said in a statement, “There still may be fat to cut at the Department of Education, and urge our mayor and the department to exact more cost-cutting measures centrally and in their use of consultants in an effort to avoid affecting our classrooms.” However on a political note, next November, a year after the original term limits debate, will anyone connect being disenfranchised with a mayor who will be spending a boatload of money on personal promotion?
“It is not just term limits,” said Thompson. “It’s from the tolls across the East River bridges; it’s the closing of the senior citizen centers. It’s the cuts. The mayor wants to charge people to cross the bridges, but people can barely afford things as it is.” Thompson has called on City Hall to use the 1993 memorandum of understanding (MOU) to block the proposed increase in Access-A-Ride fares from $2 to as much as $5 per trip.
Testifying on Wednesday before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) board at a 2009 budget hearing inside MTA headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, Thompson said, “As the city comptroller, I know that there are often tough financial decisions to make–and while we are in the midst of a recession, we must do all we can to help avoid drastic fare hikes and loss of vital transportation services.”
He added, “I have proposed ways to help ease the burden on the riders of the MTA by raising funds to help close the budget gap.”
Those ideas include: establishing a weight-based registration fee for vehicles in the 12 counties served by the MTA. In a statement, Thompson said that this plan, in conjunction with the reinstatement of a commuter tax, would provide more than $1.8 billion annually in transit funds to the MTA and help avert tolls on the free East River and Harlem River bridges, placing an undo financial burden on the residents of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island.
So the city comptroller appears to be champing at the bit to get the mayoral race started. But, the AmNews asked, is he sure that a couple of months from now he won’t pull out, citing some legitimate family issue or something? “No, no, I am definitely running,” he proclaimed. “I can win this.”
His support, he said, comes from “a combination of communities across the city; from members of the clergy to elected officials to grassroots community leaders. There has been,” he said, “an outpouring of people this week.” His website (www.Thompson2009.com.) has just been launched, and it is being managed, he told the AmNews, by “Blue State Digital, which did the website for President-elect Obama and his technical piece.”
Just recently remarried to Museum for African Art President Elsie McCabe, the Amsterdam News asked how he would juggle married life with what would be a hectic campaign for the next 11 months. “I guess I’ll see my wife right after the election next year, and in between times in the campaign,” he laughed.