The Hot Seat: Bill Thompson

He's running for mayor. (If only so he won't have to hear people mispronounce comptroller anymore.)

Illustration: Rob Kelly

A couple of years ago, New York City comptroller Bill Thompson probably didn't think running for mayor would be this difficult. After all, city term limits dictated that Mayor Bloomberg would have to step down, and the Williamsburg Yeti wasn't yet the viable alternative candidate he (it?) is today. Mayor Bloomberg, however, had other plans, and thought it prudent to rejigger the law and run for a third term. Given his moneybags, the guy's a shoo-in, right? All of a sudden, that's less certain, as Thompson has cut Bloomy's lead to single digits. Does the comptroller comptrol his own fate?

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So the election is heating up.
I would say that it is just about red-hot right now.

You seemed to have gotten the best of the debate the other night. You said something about how everything the mayor has done has been for himself and not for the voters. Strong words!
I forget the context, but I thought it was very accurate.

I spoke to you last year, and at that point you had said you were definitely running for mayor. But I think that was before Mayor Bloomberg decided to run yet again. Did his decision surprise you?
Well, I think the change of term limits, the mayor's flip-flop on his position, doing what he said he would never do, was a big surprise. He had spent almost seven years saying that under no circumstances would he ever try and change term limits by going to the City Council. And in the end he did just that. So I was very surprised.

You read it in the Times and just spit your Cheerios all over the front page, didn't you?
A lot of this happened when a number of us were at the Democratic Convention. But it indicated that he was meeting with the publishers of the major dailies to get them to support him in that term-limit change, and I still didn't believe it. I took the mayor at his word, that he would never do that.

How daunting is it as a challenger to go against a relatively popular centrist with boatloads of cash at his disposal?
It is certainly an obstacle, all that money. And it continues to create a situation where you are an underdog and it's an uphill battle, but the reality is that it just gives you more energy. And the thing is, I don't think the people of New York City can be bought. So he's spending this money to try and convince them that he's someone different? That his record is something different from what it has been for the last eight years? I don't think the people of New York City are biting. I don't think they'll buy what he's trying to sell them.

We have pretty good bullshit detectors.
[Laughs] Your comment. I didn't say that.

In the interest of leveling the playing field, what if I staged a daring midnight raid on the Bloomberg money bin?
I don't think we'd ever get close. [Laughs]

I've seen Die Hard, like, a million times, though.
I don't think we're picking those locks, okay? [Laughs] We're going to have to rely on small donations from people across the city, which have been substantial. What we've been doing is making a real grassroots campaign.

Have you had to personally cut back on spending amid our collective financial ruin?
Oh, absolutely. I think everyone is cutting back. Everyone is trying to save more, to use their credit cards less. Everyone in New York is experiencing a pinch in one form or another. I'm like everybody else.

You put your pants on one leg at a time? Or is that too inefficient?
[Laughs] I've tried the two-legs-at-one-time thing before. It just doesn't work.

Is it wrong to throw eggs at Wall Street types? Those guys really stoke my unfocused populist rage.
I think that's one thing that bothers everybody, is that you look at companies like AIG that were paying people bonus money with our tax dollars. I don't think there's something wrong at that point with saying, "Wait a minute. How dare you? How dare you do this with our money?"

I think I can speak for the voters of the city when I say this is the most pressing question we have: If you were the mayor in Ghostbusters, would you devote city resources and tax dollars to fight Zuul?
[Laughs] Well, I think at that point they were working to save the city. So you do what it takes to save the city.

Vote Tue 3. To find your voting location, go to vote.nyc.ny.us.

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