Democratic candidate says ‘different mayor’ can get more federal anti-terror money; insists a new top cop won’t mean crime rise.
Democratic candidate for mayor William C. Thompson 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 Republican Mike Bloomberg in Tuesday’s election.
Do you feel that former Mayor 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 what I term pe,ople’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. There are people who are also, it’s not only insisting in the African American and other communities, but there are people in Borough Park, because I as 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 Beamed. 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 a half, I believe. And 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. I was deputy borough president then and I remember the riots if only that I was out of the country, it was the first vacation I had and I came back to my hotel that night and there were four messages from the office. I was on the plane the next day; I think I was on the south of France at that point, my first trip to Europe.
The mistake in Crown Heights, I think every one acknowledges, are 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. But the thing you always want to do is restore order and restore order quickly.
Are race relations better today?
I think relationships across the city are better and I think … people have come together more over the years. I think a number of things help bring people together over a period of time; more understanding of people, people working together to get things done, and the after-effects of Sept. 11, which had a real impact on the city of New York, almost something you can feel. New Yorkers felt closer together after that after what happened that day, it doesn’t matter what background you’re from or who you are, we had all been under attack.
Do you hear different questions or sense different priorities in different neighborhoods in the city?
We have some things in common. It may be different in different neighborhoods but the largest issues tend to be around jobs. In some neighborhoods the focus is on small business, but in all neighborhoods it’s the need for affordable housing in every neighborhood and more of it. You hear about costs being too high, water rates property tax assessments, the MTA fare, parking tickets, you name it. Sometimes it’s education and public schools. You hear different things in different places but certain messages are consistent.
Do you support some measure of aid for tuition-paying private school families?
I have not supported vouchers. I believe in the 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 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 as 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 better 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 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.’
Who has your ear in the Jewish community?
Rabbi Adam Mintz [a liaison in the comptroller’s office]. I talk to a number of people in variety of different … I talk to people like Rabbi [Arthur] Schneier of Park East Synagogue, and his son Marc. Dov Hikind is someone who is a friend. I was in Borough Park a couple of weeks ago and saw people and we looked at each other, like Rabbi Edgar Gluck, who I’ve known since I was 20, and we remember over the years the different opportunities and relationships you form.
Can you discuss your divestment of city pension funds from companies doing business with Iran, Sudan or 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 just 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 in.
I thought 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. 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.