Bill Thompson bids for support from city power brokers, vaguely

Thompson on Thursday morning. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Bill Thompson, the former comptroller and Democratic mayoral nominee, stood patiently behind Al D’Amato in the ballroom of the Hilton New York this morning, as the Republican former senator talked to a scrum of reporters about why he's supporting Thompson.

“I wouldn’t be supporting him if I didn’t think he was a good, decent man who is capable of being a great mayor,” said D’Amato, Thompson's second biggest fund-raiser. “And I didn’t know he was next to me while I was saying that.”

Thompson stepped forward and took D'Amato's place.

This was shortly after Thompson had addressed a ballroom full of wealthy, civic-minded New Yorkers at a breakfast sponsored by the Association for Better New York.

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The case he made to the audience for his mayoral candidacy was four-fold: He'll keep New York City safe, he'll keep the economy strong, he'll invest in infrastructure, and he'll make the city more affordable for people who aren't wealthy.

On the question of public safety, Thompson said the size of the police force should be expanded to 37,000 (from 34,500, the current number), 1,000 of those new officers should be stationed in the city’s five most dangerous precincts, and there should be “fundamental reform” to the department's stop-and-frisk program in order to improve relations between the department and the community.

He faulted Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Democratic mayoral front-runner Christine Quinn, who as Council Speaker has worked closely with Bloomberg, for what he said was their “fiscal irresponsibility” in failing to resolve union contracts, all of which are now expired, for the first time since the 1970s.

He said he would create a new position for a deputy mayor for infrastructure to guide the city’s efforts to rebuild from, and mitigate against, another Hurricane Sandy.

He said he would work to resolve the city’s “affordability and opportunity” gap.

And he said he’d focus on economic development in all five boroughs, and build up the city’s biotech sector.

He did say he was against raising taxes. But his proposals and goals, and the possible means of paying for them, were presented in broad strokes, which is to say without much detail. In the reporter’s scrum that followed, he declined to offer any further elaboration.

Henry Goldman, a Bloomberg reporter, asked Thompson whether he would consider granting retroactive pay raises to members of all those public unions without contracts. The current mayor dismised that possibility out of hand.

"You know something, the one thing right now, I'm not gonna talk about union contracts," said Thompson, explaining that the unions and the city are going to have to enter "an era of cooperation."

But what does he think about the concept of retroactive pay raises?

"This isn't a discussion right now about how I'm gonna do union contracts," he said. "I'm not in City  Hall, I'm not the mayor. And the one thing I've learned over the years, it's a mistake to discuss that in public."

Thompson also said he took issue with the current administration's reliance on so-called "one-shots," like taxi-medallion sales, to close its budgets.

Asked how would he would close the city's budget gaps, Thompson said, "You have to make those reductions. You have to go within budget, and continue to make cuts."

But what would he cut?

"The one thing I'm not gonna do is, right now, here's where you're gonna make a cut, here's where you're not,'" he said. "I'm not sitting in the seat, I don't have the same access to the numbers that the current mayor does."

Would he lay off workers to close the budget gap?

"You know something, we have millions and tens of millions of dollars in contracts," said Thompson. "You look at the education system, you look at other places. They're outsourcing and in some places, some would even say privatizing a lot of functions. It's a question of bringing those back in-house, making sure we get a real bang for our buck, making sure we work with workers in skill development and then bringing that money back in-house."

A reporter followed up by asking about the current administration's effort to reduce the costs of its school-bus contracts by eliminating employment guarantees for current drivers, which is at issue in an ongoing bus-driver strike. New York City currently pays more than twice as much per bus-riding pupil than any other city in America.

"The bidding out of contracts, I don't have a problem with that," Thompson said. "What you're seeing right now in eliminating the employee-protection provision, I believe that should be there. At one point as president of the board of education, we looked at those contracts. We wanted to make sure that employees who had the skills, who have records of safety, continue to be those that are driving our students and taking care of them."