Long-shot Democrat mayoral candidate Tony Avella is hoping to cash in on some bad publicity for frontrunner William Thompson in the run-up to next Tuesday’s primary.
Thompson, the city comptroller, has taken some hits for his management of the city pension system since a New York Times article found the performance of four of the five funds dropped under his tenure.
Avella, a City Councilman from Queens who is low on spending cash and name recognition, believes his campaign is gaining momentum, despite depressing polls. The most recent Quinnipac University survey gave him only 10 percent to Thompson’s 45 percent. The majority, however, are undecided. The candidates spoke to The Jewish Week in back-to-back interviews Sunday.
“More and more people finally are beginning to hear about my campaign, although we have limited funds,” said Avella. “I also think a lot is coming out about my opponent.” Aside from the pension shortcomings, Avella notes that Thompson “was president of the Board of Education when it was at its worst. This hasn’t come up until the last weeks.”
He added, “We spend huge amounts of money on no-bid contracts and the comptroller approves them, and then he complains about them.”
Avella says the first thing he would do as mayor is “fire Joel Klein,” saying the schools chancellor “runs the DOE like a bureaucracy and teaches to the test, without increasing standards of education.”
He would also “start to reform city agencies and start to eliminate the huge amount of waste and start real community-based planning.”
Thompson, for his part, says the pension fund issue was blown out of proportion by the Times.
“The Times article looked merely at one measure,” he said Sunday. “We continue to look at multiple measures of achievement. We diversify and work hard with the trustees. I’m not the sole trustee like the comptroller of the state is.”
If he prevails in the primary, Thompson said he would make the case against Mayor Mike Bloomberg (an independent who is also running on the Republican ballot) by stressing that “he should not be running for a third term, after telling the people eight years ago how he felt about term limits, and then going around them to the City Council [to extend them.]”
On top of that, Thompson adds “Middle-class and working New Yorkers all over the city are having a harder time, and the mayor has helped contribute to that, not just by raising property taxes but water rates, fines, tickets, sales taxes and all those things.”
But isn’t it necessary in a downturn to increase revenues?
“It’s a question of how you do it,” said the comptroller. “I want to increase taxes on people making half a million dollars or more and let it sunset after three or four years. The sales tax increase is unfair because it continues to penalize working- and middle-class New Yorkers and does damage to retail sales. We should be looking at ways to improve and support retail business.”
While he said race relations in the city have improved in the past eight years, Thompson said that’s not saying much. “The former mayor helped inflame some of the situations,” he said. “Mike Bloomberg is doing a better job than Rudy Giuliani, but things could be better. Dov Hikind started an African American-Jewish coalition to stand together in tough times. It’s about not just being passive but aggressive in bringing people together.”
Of Avella’s comment that he criticizes contracts that he has approved, Thompson said “the comptroller has a limited ability to be able to reject contracts; only in cases of corruption and malfeasance, and even then the mayor can still overrule.”
Thompson said he was undaunted by Bloomberg’s relentless TV ad campaign because “he has spent millions of dollars and his numbers haven’t changed.”
Also heating up is the race for public advocate, which is shaping up as a battle between the first holder of that office, Mark Green, and Councilman Bill de Blasio, with a possible runoff brewing.
De Blasio attacked Green in debates over his willingness to allow Giuliani to extend his term after 9/11 and over business ties with his real estate mogul brother that might present conflicts of interest for a city official.
Green last week trotted out the endorsement of Harvard law professor and author Alan Dershowitz, who said Green had been “a remarkable role model to public-minded law students.
“I’ve known Mark since literally the first week he came into Harvard Law School,” Dershowitz told The Jewish Week. “He said, ‘I don’t want to be an ordinary lawyer, I want to work in the public’s interest. Help me frame a curriculum.’ ”
Green, in an interview with The Jewish Week, said, “I have talented rivals who are finding fault in the way I tie my shoes. However, the bulk of voters seem to be pleased and positive about the possibility that I may return to an office that I loved and they think I did pretty well in.”
Green said he viewed the office, which some critics contend is superfluous, as a necessary “counterweight” and “watchdog” to a powerful mayor. But he conceded that when the mayor and City Council extended term limits this year the current public advocate, Betsy Gotbaum, was empowered to do little but complain about it. When asked, Green was hard-pressed to come up with an example in which the public advocate could put the brakes on City Hall.
“Mike Bloomberg is an unusually powerful mayor, but he can’t govern alone,” said Green. “I can see him having an environmental idea, a health idea, an open government idea where he’ll need bipartisan enthusiastic support and cooperation to get it done … I’ll stand with him when we agree on an issue, and I’ll stand up to him when necessary.”
Green has a solid lead in the Quinnipiac poll, at 38 percent, compared with de Blasio, at 14 percent.
A spokesman for de Blasio said the councilman did not have time for an interview Sunday or Monday while campaigning. Barely registering with 8 percent in the public advocate race were civil liberty activist Norman Siegel and Queens City Councilman Eric Goia.
Outgoing Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau has been telling friends that he considers his action against New York-based banks who launder money for dangerous foreign governments, particularly Iran, one of his most important legacies.
He has also said it’s one of the key reasons he supports Cyrus Vance Jr., as his successor.
“[Vance] has come out very strongly in favor of interrupting the sale of contraband to Iran and also stopping Iran from using hidden accounts to pay suppliers,” said the 91-year-old Morgenthau in a wide-ranging interview with the Jewish Week, reflecting on his 35-years in office. “He’s the only candidate who has spoken out on those issues.”
The DA charged that the other candidates to succeed him haven’t shown an interest in white-collar crime. And in a swipe at Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder, a former prosecutor who has twice tried to unseat him, he said she wrote in an autobiography that as head of the DA’s consumer fraud unit “she found it extremely boring and asked for another assignment. We think consumer fraud is extremely important.”
Also running for the job is another former assistant DA, Richard Aborn, who until recently was president of the Citizens Crime Commission, a nonpartisan nonprofit group.
The Manhattan DA’s race may perhaps be the least predictable in the primary. “Anyone can win,” says Democrat political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “Manhattan voters are historically liberal. But gender also matters in New York County, where women have a distinctive edge. Vance and Snyder both have things going for them, but someone else can run up the middle. It all depends on who turns out.”