Bill Thompson is running for mayor, whether you’re paying attention or not

Bill Thompson and Steve Kramer in Williamsburg. (Dana Rubinstein)
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

You may think Bill Thompson's 2013 mayoral campaign is low-key. But if you ask Thompson, he'll tell you you're just not looking hard enough.

"If anybody looks at my schedule and sees what I'm doing, it's not under the radar by any stretch of the imagination," said Thompson on Friday night, at a party that its host, a political consultant named Steve Kramer, advertised as "the greatest party you will go to in Williamsburg in April this year."

A makeshift bar on the rooftop of the Roebling Street walkup Kramer calls home was framed by an expansive swath of the Manhattan skyline. The manicotti and wings were from Arthur Avenue. The crowd was motley.

Chris Smith, a Democratic media consultant from Rockland County, was there. So was Thompson fund-raiser Marla Klinger, who's also helping Julie Menin make a possible run for Manhattan Borough President. And so was Bob Heaney, who works as a bouncer at Tempest Bar on the west side and likes Thompson because he had the "gumption" to run against Bloomberg in 2009 when everyone else "was too terrified of him to do so."

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

Heaney, a hulking man, helped out at the door.

The guest of honor arrived at 9 p.m.

Though the invitation told party-goers to "Please bring a bathing suit and towel as we have a roof top Hot Tub!!," Thompson wore a dark suit and purple tie.

Kramer, a robocall specialist, holds such parties monthly and says the next scheduled guest is one of Thompson's ostensible 2013 competitors, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

"Well, you know, Steven reached out and wanted to do kind of a little bit of a meet-and-greet," said Thompson. "We're doing a combination of fund-raisers, meet-and-greets these days, a number of different things."

Thompson says he's been keeping busy.

"So, you know a day like today, I was in, heck, East Harlem this morning at an event, a fund-raiser with a group of people from the Indian community, we did an event," Thompson continued. "You just keep going, day after day after day."

The wind was brisk and Thompson was "watching everybody turn blue."

As the band got louder, Thompson and I repaired to a stairwell, where we encountered the host.

"Oh my god, Bill Thompson, how are you," said Kramer, decked out in a red and orange Hawaiian shirt, beaded necklace and khaki shorts.

"I'm so happy that you came."

Thompson said it was his pleasure.

Then he returned to the topic of his campaign activity.

"The difference between myself and some of the other people out there, I don't have elective office like they do right now," he told me. "And I think that contributes to some of the perception."

Thompson grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, headed the board of education, and was elected as city comptroller, an office he held until 2009, when he ran for mayor. That Thompson campaign seemed like a low-key affair too, but anger over Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision to overturn term limits was still strongly felt, and Thompson, though he was vastly outspent, lost in the general by a surprisingly narrow margin.

Now Thompson, a likeable, conventionally liberal New York Democrat who is known for his even temperament, is running again. This time his primary opponents are Stringer, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Manhattan Media C.E.O. Tom Allon.

Thompson, by virtue of the fact that he has run before and that he is the only non-white candidate in the race (assuming the troubled current comptroller, John Liu, doesn't run), is formidable, however modest his campaign may seem, and stands a good chance of at least making it into a two-candidate runoff in the primary.

Recently, Republicans have joined former mayor Ed Koch in a public courtship of police commissioner Ray Kelly, though he has no apparent interest in the prospect.

"Ray continues to say that he's not interested and that he's not running, and I take him at his word," said Thompson.

Kramer's roommate, in a long, black mermaid gown, stopped on her way downstairs to formally welcome Thompson to her home. 

Thompson thanked her.

"And what a wonderful one it is," he said. "I love that dress."

"Thank you," she said.

Thompson returned soon thereafter to the rooftop to give his speech.

Kramer introduced him.

"Everywhere I go in Brooklyn, people tell me about two people," he said. "They tell me about Marty Markowitz, who's the borough president, and they tell me about Bill Thompson, who's one of Brooklyn's own."

"Yeah!" yelled a man in the crowd.

After delivering a summary of Thompson's resume, Kramer addressed his audience.

"Before you go to the ballot box, talk to ten of your friends and say, 'You know what, I met a guy and he was so cool and he was this really good person who was running for mayor and has the chops, because he was comptroller, because he was doing the education thing a long time ago, he's gonna make it happen,'" said Kramer. "Bill Thompson."

The crowd, which was almost entirely white, cheered as Thompson took up position next to the band. 

"Look, I'm running to be the next mayor of the city of New York," he said, followed by more cheers.

He talked about the need to improve education, and keep New York safe, though he didn't get into any specifics. He talked about jobs.

"We need jobs," he said. "Jobs, not just for the big businesses. The greatest growth area in the city of New York that we've seen in the last 15 years, small businesses and those who are self employed. That's a growth area."

Thompson asked attendees who were self-employed to raise their hands. Several did.

"Absolutely, a lot," said Thompson. "That's a great growth area. And New York City has done nothing to help you. Has done nothing. As a matter of fact, if anything, they just figured out other ways to tax you.

Thompson also positioned himself as the outer-borough candidate.

"This is a city, it's the greatest city in the world, but it could be even better with a mayor who understands that our strength is its people," he said. "A mayor who understands that New York City is about its five boroughs."

The band, headed by a ponytailed guitar player named Benoir, who wore black leather pants and a black cowboy hat, sang a jazzy song in Thompson's honor.

"Vote for Bill," went the chorus. "Vote for Bill. Vote for Billllllll."

Not everybody there seemed convinced.

"I thought it sounded really generic," said an arty-looking copy editor named Rachel, of Thompson's speech. Rachel, who asked that I not use her last name, had found her way to the party via a friend of a friend.

"I don't know anything about him, but who doesn't want to improve education and make New York safer for people to live in?" she said. "Maybe he's a great guy, but I didn't hear anything that would fire me up."

A bald pychologist with an intense gaze named Adam, who also declined to give his last name, said, "I don't feel like I have a strong sense of who he is, so I don't have a lot of things to compare it to. But his basic, you know, way of being, I found very pleasant. The basic position that I begin in, is with a lot of skepticism of any politican. So he didn't do anything to increase that, and in a way that's a success."

Thompson was gone by 10. The party lasted until the wee hours of the morning.