This is not Bill Thompson’s first time on the mayoral campaign trail.
The former city comptroller ran against Mayor Bloomberg in 2009 and lost by less than 5 percent — a much closer margin than had been expected. Now he’s back for another run and says he’s the best candidate.
“I think so many of the issues that I’ve talked about are issues that impact Queens and the city as a whole,” he said at a recent meeting wtih the Queens Chronicle editorial board.
Thompson said his experience as former president of the Board of Education and as the son of a city schoolteacher makes him well-qualified to understand what city schools need to succeed.
“Look at a system that’s clearly not working for our children right now,” he said. “Everything from the excessive focus on standardized testing, the lack of focus on comprehension and critical thinking; the large number of school closings when in fact you could’ve turned those schools around.”
He said colocations and closures are sometimes warranted, but schools should be closed only after all other options are exhausted and colocations should be temporary and only done when space is limited.
Both those factors have not played into the Bloomberg administration’s decisions, however, Thompson alleged. He said that in many cases multiple schools in one campus end up fighting over resources and new colocated schools have a negative effect on already existing institutions in the building.
“When you don’t make sure there is fairness and equity and balance within schools, then there’s something wrong,” he said. “Then what you are at the very least doing is sending a message to teachers and students particularly that you’re second-class citizens.”
Thompson stressed he would offer an educator as Chancellor in his administration in the mold of former chancellors Ramon Cortines and Rudy Crew, who served during the Giuliani administration.
“We need someone to help project an educational vision for the city of New York,” Thompson said.
Education is Thompson’s top issue, along with public safety, the latter of which he praised the past three administrations in their work in bringing crime down.
“New York City is the safest big city in the country,” he said. “We have to keep that up. It has changed the perception of the city. It’s changed the way we look at ourselves.”
He credits former police commissioner Bill Bratton and current top cop Ray Kelly for their work on public safety, as well as programs like CompStat and Safe Streets and the number of cops on the force. He did criticize the cut in the police force, which he notes is below 35,000. He said a couple thousand more cops are needed.
“37,000 is probably the number that makes sense,” he said. “It’s going to take time to get there, we have to do it gradually. There are things we can start to do within budget: civilianization, for example. There are hundreds of cops sitting behind a desk, we can start putting them out of the street.
He also said he would keep stop and frisk, with reforms.
“It’s a useful policing tool that has been used and abused,” he said. “The fact that you’ve tied stop and frisk into ‘performance goals,’ that’s wrong. That’s not the way it was designed.”
He said the high number of stop and frisks among black and Latino men that have yielded too few guns or contraband show it is being abused and also pointed out the drop in stops last year, when crime remained historically low, as a sign it doesn’t need to be used as often as it is.
Thompson said he expects the next mayor to have to deal with a slew of contract negotiations and a budget mess.
He said he would first look at where the city is, in his opinion, wasting money with outsourcing work and bring those dollars in-house, then sit down with contractors and unions to discuss new contracts, all of which are overdue.
“It’s going to be a time of collaboration, a time of leadership and a time people are going to have to trust the mayor,” he said.
On development, Thompson said the NYC Economic Development Corporation needs to be “reined in” and has not worked with communities on development issues the way it should.
“EDC needs to be more accountable and more responsible,” he said. “I favor growth and development in the city. I believe I was a pro-growth and pro-development comptroller. But at the same point, you want to involve the community in what works; making sure you don’t destroy the tenor and flavor of neighborhoods.”
Thompson has spent the last few years working in the private sector, underwriting debt at a municipal finance firm and chaired the board of directors of the Battery Park City Authority and co-chaired Gov. Cuomo’s 2010 campaign. He says he could have won in 2009 if his campaign had had more resources, but that this is a different year and different race.
“In 2009, it was a city that in many ways wanted to go in another direction,” he said. “But this isn’t about 2009 and the fact that I was close them entitles you to absolutely nothing. This is about 2013, the city moving forward, going in the right direction and being out there all the time focused on the future of New York City.”