First of a 3-part series: The Principles I Believe In
NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson’s office looks like the city’s chief fiscal officer works there. Decorations are sparse. Visitors sit on a faded floral print sofa – a holdover from when Liz Holtzman was Comptroller. A greeter explains: Thompson felt it is important to spend tax payer funds wisely; fancy office decorations are not a priority.
Thompson, a candidate for Mayor of the City of New York, believes he is the right person to succeed Michael Bloomberg. According to Thompson, there is a huge difference between say, “someone like Charles Barron and myself.” While his personality type is not sensational, Thompson thinks “people have been surprised when I stand up. There is no hesitancy. It’s a direct message. I am running for mayor.”
Thompson says, “This is not a city for just the privileged few. This is a city for everybody. I feel I am the best person to be able to lead this city.”
The contrasts between Comptroller Thompson and Michael Bloomberg are strong. “As Comptroller, I may not have fought with the Mayor on a regular basis, but I disagreed with him when I thought he was wrong.” Thompson recalled the fiscal crisis going back even to 2003, and 2004, when the Mayor wanted to cut city services unequally. “He wanted to cut, if you remember, sanitation services, back then. Sanitation services, one day a week collection outside Manhattan, and really, even above 96th St., one day a week sanitation collection.,” Thompson said. “I pounded him over that. Why? Because he was wrong. I didn’t make any points in City Hall, but it was the right thing to do.”
Comptroller Thompson recognizes the need to fill a budget gap at the MTA, but he thinks Mayor Bloomberg’s support for East River tolls are a bad idea. Thompson has made recommendations “that may not be popular– increased registration fees on automobiles.” He believes the fees should not occur just in the city, but in the 12 counties covered by the MTA. “Do it based on weight on the auto. So you reward people who have lighter, more fuel efficient vehicles,” said Thompson. “If you have a big SUV, it costs you more.”
The Comptroller says he has always stood up. Thompson supported the hiring of Harold Levy as the interim Chancellor at the Board of Education over Rudy Guiliani’s vocal opposition. Thompson recalled, “He (Guiliani) was incensed that we hired somebody over his objections. I thought Harold Levy was better for NYC school children and teachers than Bob Keiley, who was the head of the NYC Partnership, who had embraced a number of the Mayor’s positions.”
Bill Thompson says no matter what the issue, you do not have to scream to get attention. Or have people take you seriously. “I think that’s the type of leadership, strong, committed, strong leadership that I have always exhibited,” he said.
Thompson believes he’d bring leadership that understands the communities and the people of New York City. “Given my background, growing up in the middle of Bedford Stuyvesant, I was very fortunate to have a household where my father and mother were both committed to public service. I learned about the value of public service in that house,” said Thompson. Growing up in a neighborhood some would consider not to be the best neighborhood, Thompson watched people struggle to get by. He is a product of NYC public schools and was raised with a devotion to public service, something he considers to be “incredibly honorable, particularly when you focus on the best interests of people.”
“I understand the hopes and dreams of all New Yorkers,” Thompson said. He doesn’t think Mike Bloomberg understands people who are struggling to get by. “I don’t think he is hostile to it, but I don’t think he understands how difficult it is for many of us to get by from day-to-day. As you look at everything from the cost of shelter and putting a roof over our heads, to making sure our children get a quality education, to even making sure New Yorkers get better paying jobs, and are still able to live in the city that we work in, I think that Mike sees New York in a very limited way, for the privileged few.”
Thompson wants New York City to remain the business and financial capital of the world, “But we have been overly dependent on Wall Street and have not wanted to break that dependence.” There are many areas that the Comptroller believes can diversify business in NYC: biotech, education, continuing to grow education as an industry, healthcare which is a growing industry. According to Thompson, we have a need for a greener city, but “all the materials for a greener city are imported from other places. That is a great opportunity for new industry in NYC.”
He feels there is one area that tends to be overlooked, the small business base of NYC. “We don’t support small businesses in a number of ways. Look at just helping small business cut through red tape in the city, we don’t provide help and support there. Access to capital, NYC has done nothing over the years to help increase and help support access to capital for small businesses. Look at taxes, fines, fees. What are some of those that prevent small business from being established and from growing in NYC. The unincorporated business tax — maybe we would like to eliminate or continue to reduce it. That would help small businesses grow.”
Thompson believes self employed individuals should receive more support from the city. “The biggest growth area in NYC over the past 15 years have been those who are self-employed: from 8% of the workforce in 1990 to 17% now. The business community is carrying an inventory of unused space. I made certain recommendations that those who are self-employed to be able to use space in larger businesses in return for services. We are trying to work something out through the NYC Partnership, through Chambers of Commerce and others.” According to Thompson, there is opportunity to help grow those who are self-employed and small businesses.
An area of concern for the Comptroller is how NYC contracts with small business. “We do tons [of business] in goods and services across our city agencies.” The Comptroller’s office is currently in the process of auditing how NYC awards contracts with African-American, Latino, Asian, women-owned businesses. According to Thompson, “From everything we have seen anecdotally, there really has not been a focus in that area. There has been an effort to sign people up, but there has not been a lot more minority business with city agencies. ” The audit will be released before the beginning of the summer.
Part 2 – March 19th Women’s History Month Special