Bill Thompson Interviewed By The Jewish Week


thompsonDemocratic candidate for mayor, William C. Thompson, Jr., visited The Jewish Week on Oct. 22. Thompson, 56, has been New York City comptroller since 2001, and previously served as president of the city Board of Education, as deputy borough president of Brooklyn, and as vice president of the investment firm of George K. Baum.Thompson spoke to Jewish Week editors and reporters about his campaign to unseat Mike Bloomberg in Tuesday’s election. Here are excerpts from the interview.

Do you feel that former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani helped your campaign last week [when he warned that the city could fall back into high crime]?

I was surprised that former Mayor Giuliani and Mayor Bloomberg decided almost to take a trip to the past and bring up what I term people’s fears and the politics of division. Later on, Mayor Bloomberg’s comment about Detroit [warning that New York could suffer a similar fate] was probably one of the lowest points I’ve seen the mayor on this campaign, and he has hit some low points with his ads and some of the other things.

Do you feel this will carry over into the election?

There are some people who won’t forgive that. It’s not only insulting in the African American and other communities, but there are people in Borough Park, because I was there later in the day, who just said they couldn’t believe he would try that in this community. I can’t say I would be the same person as David Dinkins or Abe Beame. Under Bill Thompson things would be different. Why would you even bring that up and attempt to scare people?

Was David Dinkins a good mayor?

In some ways yes and in some ways no. As far as bringing back dollars for Safe Streets Safe City, he brought money back in and I thought he did a good job there. No one thought that was going to happen … Looking back at all mayors, you try to look at what was done well and what was done better. Crime had actually begun to fall under the Dinkins administration in the last year, year and half, I believe. And it continued and accelerated under Giuliani

What about his handling of the Crown Heights riots?

I think that was not well-handled, and I think everybody acknowledges that …The mistake in Crown Heights, I think every one acknowledges, is you have to restore order first. I think there was an attempt to talk and try and resolve the situation easily and quietly … It’s always a question of restoring order first and making sure people are safe, then you can talk to people after that.

Do you support aid for tuition-paying private school families?

I have not supported vouchers. I believe in tax credits that are in use in Albany. As far as working with a number of parochial schools and yeshivas to make sure that the services they are entitled to they receive, I support that and I talk about the work I have done when I was at the Board of Education to make sure there is real equity, especially in terms of transportation, which I know there were problems with.

The current tax credit is for all children. Do you support one specifically for private education?

That’s one of the things you talk to legislative leaders to see where they are at these days before you throw something out there just to pander. You like to know what the reality is. I’ll continue to talk to some of the legislative leaders about where that might go.

What do you think about ethnic-focused charter schools?

I support charter schools and support the expansion of charter schools. I’m not going to be critical about creating a school that has a specific focus. I think that all students are different and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. What I’d like to see is real access and fair access to these schools.

You have said you would not want to retain Ray Kelly as police commissioner. Doesn’t the public deserve to know before the election who would be your pick?

I have stood up for Ray Kelly and defended him on a couple of occasions when I thought he was being attacked unfairly. I just thought that the idea of an indispensable person does not work … Bringing someone in who is different doesn’t mean changes. When Bill Bratton came in [replacing Kelly] people were skeptical, but now people say he was the best police commissioner we ever had … The level of expectation by everybody is that we will keep crime down, and my expectation is that will happen. We will not take steps backward.

How do we make sure the city gets its share of anti-terrorism money after Washington slashed our allocation?

A lot of it is making sure we work with our congressional delegation to lobby the White House. One of the things about being endorsed and supported by the president [is it means greater cooperation]… it’s a question of a different mayor and creating a different focus. We’ve also seen community-policing dollars that have been reduced. Those of are valuable dollars that need to come back to New York City. Bringing those dollars in is incredibly important.

It’s hard to see a Democratic candidate for mayor winning without the Jewish vote. How do you sense you are doing in the community?

I’ve been out there campaigning, and the reaction has been a positive one. I was in Brooklyn yesterday talking to some district leaders [in Jewish neighborhoods] and they say in my neighborhood, the reaction is good.

Can you discuss your divestment of city pension funds from companies doing business with Iran, Sudan and Syria?

We have divested in three companies to start with, and we are moving down the path on divesting in other companies; we continue to push that button.

Have you changed your position on divesting as opposed to pressuring the companies as a major stockholder to change their practices?

With American companies I was able to bring more pressure and get them to cooperate, like Aon, Cameron, Halliburton, GE, you are able to get them out of doing business in Iran and Syria. Foreign companies presented a higher hurdle. Those who clearly would not engage [in changing policies] some of them we divested from.

In the long run it makes sense for us to try and set an example and say if you will not engage and start having a conversation, then we have to change. Also, as the threat of Iran continues to grow you want to increase pressure to be able to create a stable region.

You have said in the past that a tax on the wealthy would not be a good idea because it would drive people out [of the city]. Now you want to increase taxes for households earning more than $500,000.

Times have changed. We have fallen into a real recession. The budget gap has grown dramatically. The middle class and working New Yorkers continue to be pressured and pushed out of the city. So my position on a so-called millionaires’ tax has changed. Those who have broad shoulders who are able to do a bit more for the city should do that. We are talking about an increase of six-tenths of 1 percent on those making more than $500,000; those making $1 million a year or more 1 percent and then sunset it after three or four years. Those taxes could generate about a billion dollars a year. It is a response to the ever-worsening fiscal crisis.

{Adam Dickter-The Jewish Week}

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