Whether they coordinated their timing or not, Comptroller Bill Thompson and Councilman Tony Avella arrived in convenient succession last night at a New York University auditorium, getting a politically influential audience of gay and lesbian Democrats to themselves for an hour each.
They didn’t have to deal with erstwhile Democratic mayoral contender Anthony Weiner. The congressman had committed to the mayoral forum, which was sponsored by gay and lesbian Democratic clubs, but he pulled out this week. (He also canceled an appearance for the same evening at the Village Independent Democrats.)
On the same day that David Paterson announced that he was introducing same-sex-marriage legislation in Albany, Avella took the opportunity to remind the few dozen assembled club members about the legislation he sponsored to advance marriage equality in the City Council, despite representing a relatively conservative district. When someone asked whether he had anything nice to say about Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Avella demurred.
“Whether she was a different person than I thought she was…when she became Speaker—totally different attitude,” he said. “I would have thought she would have been more helpful in advancing marriage equality.”
When Thompson spoke, he seemed determined to counter the widespread impression of a lackluster initial campaign effort. He charged up to the front of the room and quickly invoked the election of Barack Obama as one of the reasons behind his decision to enter the race.
Both candidates gave similar answers on the question of the city’s economic recovery, saying they would resuscitate small industries; the councilman focused on light manufacturing, while the comptroller gave the example of the film business, which he said evaporated with the disappearance of a key tax credit.
“We continue to be the drug addict that runs back to Wall Street for a Wall Street fix,” Thompson said.
Avella positioned himself as the candidate running against the influence of the real estate industry. He said his campaign isn’t taking its money (it’s unclear how much it would help anyway; he has raised $230,000 this election, compared to Thompson’s $5 million). And, asked what distinguishes him from his main rival, Avella highlighted his opposition to overdevelopment. “I have never seen Thompson ever speak out against that issue,” he said.
The candidates differed sharply over education: While Thompson said he supports mayoral control of schools—with some modifications—Avella sharply criticized the Bloomberg reforms, and said he’d wing it when coming up with a replacement.
“I don’t have a plan,” he said. “You know what my plan is? To have a real discussion with all the stakeholders and come up with something that works. You can’t really come up with a solution to this issue in the heat of a campaign. “
Stonewall Democrats Vice President Aubrey Lees, chatting between the two candidates’ appearances, was less than enthusiastic about the state of the Democratic mayoral field. While she said that both Thompson and Avella are good on the issues she cared about, she said that most people weren’t following the race closely enough for it to matter.
“They’ve been around for a long time,” she said. “I don’t think our community, and the community in general, finds them that exciting. They don’t see them as viable candidates. So I don’t think people find this an exciting race, unfortunately.”
Weiner would have been “pretty popular,” but given his last-minute cancellation, she just shook her head.
“I don’t think he’s running,” she said.
One audience member tried to suggest a more aggressive strategy for the comptroller in attacking the mayor for extending term limits.
“People got that this is a guy who pays people off,” the questioner said. “Isn’t that a place where you can really go after him?
“Without giving away campaign strategy…” Thompson trailed off, leaving hope, perhaps, for surprises down the road.
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