Thompson on taxing the rich, why de Blasio won

Former mayoral candidate, Bill Thompson. (Edwin Martinez.)
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Bill de Blasio is about to win the mayor's race in a romp, if the polls are to be believed. 

But according to Bill Thompson, the 2009 Democratic nominee who finished second this year, de Blasio might not have even made it out of the primary if it weren't for the issue of taxing the wealthy. 

In a recent interview with Capital, Thompson, the only black candidate among this year's Democrats, talked about a "misconception" that de Blasio's victory was due to a significant difference between him and his competitors on policing issues. 

"Stop-and-frisk was an issue," Thompson said, but "I think taxing wealthy New Yorkers" was a bigger issue.

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De Blasio campaigned on a $500 million proposal to offer universal pre-Kindergarten classes, funded by raising taxes on New Yorkers making at least $500,000 annually.

During the primary, Thompson, a former city comptroller, dismissed that funding plan as unrealistic, since the tax hike would require approval from state lawmakers. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has made fiscal discipline a central part of his agenda as he prepares to run for re-election, has indicated that the proposal isn't going anywhere anytime soon

Thompson proposed giving free tuition at city colleges to high-performing high school graduates, and paying for it with money raised from the sale of new taxi medallions.

In the phone interview, Thompson said the tax-the-rich message resonated because it tapped into voters' resentment from the financial collapse from 2008, their anger over the slow recovery and job growth and general fatigue after being governed by the richest New York City resident for twelve years.

"It's all been accelerated by that," he said.

"Things have changed in the last 10 years," said Thompson, noting that when Mayor Michael Bloomberg was first elected, his vast wealth was largely seen as a positive attribute.

"It's not just a few people" who felt that resentment, Thompson said. "It is a wide [group], middle-class people … all across the country.”

Thompson, who came within a few points of beating Bloomberg in 2009, despite being vastly outspent, sounded at ease with his loss this year.

"I've always believed you make the best effort you can, if it didn't work out the way that you wanted, then you move on," he said. "Am I disappointed? Sure. Am I going to be bitter? No.”

In the final days of the campaign, Thompson was quoted numerous times saying he thought he could win the Democratic nomination with at least 40 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a run-off with the second-place finisher. He wound up with 26.2 percent of the vote, to de Blasio's 40.3 percent.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the early front-runner in the polls, wound up with 15.5 percent.

Looking forward, Thompson said he though de Blasio would be a good mayor, but predicted a tough and politically difficult negotiation with the city's public unions over expired contracts, which he called a "ticking fiscal time bomb."

Asked if he was done seeking elected office, Thompson said, "I never say never to anything.

Asked if he could talk a bit about what the future might hold for two other New Yorkers—Cuomo and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton—Thompson laughed.

"Absolutely not," he said. "Definitely not."