Goodbye, Rose Garden

Yesterday, Bill Thompson failed to qualify for matching funds from the city's Board of Election, which oversees the city's public financing of campaigns.

Michael Bloomberg's campaign, which is threatening to make that program irrelevant (at least for the mayor's race) due to its record-setting spending, sent out a statement this morning belittling Thompson's fund-raising efforts.

"Most of Bill Thompson’s campaign dollars — an astounding 86% — have come from donors giving $1,000 or more this cycle. Another 12% comes from donors giving more than $250. Shockingly, Mr. Thompson has raised just 2% of his money in donations of $250 or less," Bloomberg campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson said.

Earlier this week, when Thompson was quoted as describing himself as a "supporter of mayoral control," Bloomberg's campaign sent out three comments Thompson made previously that showed he had reservations about supporting the initiative in the past.

When Thompson criticized Bloomberg's housing policies, again, the mayor's campaign went public with more information about Thompson's record.

"In fact, voters interested in how a Thompson administration would oversee efforts to build affordable housing need only look at Mr. Thompson’s record," Wolfson said. "Bill Thompson has taken more than one million dollars from real estate and development interests and has invested more than eighty million dollars of pension money with contributors in a failed real estate deal," Wolfson said.

On July 23, Thompson challenged Bloomberg to participate in a public debate about education. The invitation from Thompson didn't get picked up by any news outlet, but when asked for a response, Bloomberg's campaign was quick with one.

"Mr. Thompson should first debate himself," Wolfson said, in a public statement that included yet even more information from Thompson's past.

For much of the mayor’s race so far, Bloomberg has had the luxury of campaigning by talking about his own record and basically ignoring his main Democratic opponent.

While there has been shots fired across Thompson’s bow, there has really been no direct engagement on the order we’ve come to expect from their operation.

It seems that's all over.

A July 28 Quinnpiac poll showed that Bloomberg’s lead over Thompson had shrunk, and, for the first time in a head-to-head matchup, that Bloomberg was polling under 50 percent.

Criticisms aside, the results did not go unnoticed. And, circumstantially speaking, there's more motive than ever for the Bloomberg people to engage.

One of the early signs of this level of engagement came when Thompson posted an essay on Huffington Post calling for the resignation of Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and better monitoring of how school’s monitor students’ grades.

Wolfson responded with a lengthy critique of Thompson’s record as the president of the Board of Education in the 1990s.

This morning, Wolfson responded to Thompson's audit that criticized Bloomberg's housing policies.

"Bill Thompson's recent attacks on Mayor Mike Bloomberg's housing accomplishments make an examination of the Comptroller's own record that much more important," Wolfson said in a public statement emailed to reporters. "As Comptroller, Bill Thompson has taken more than one million dollars from real estate and development interests and has invested more than eighty million dollars of pension money with contributors in a failed real estate deal."

Assemblyman Michael Benjamin of the Bronx, a Thompson supporter, says that the attacks are the result of perceived pressure on the Bloomberg campaign to improve its performance in the polls.

“Despite the mayor’s spending, his numbers aren’t moving. So, they have to get in battle mode," he said. “The mayor’s people have to engage now, because what they’ve done so far is not working."

David Birdsell, the dean of the school of public affairs at Baruch, said he always expected Bloomberg's campaign to ramp up its criticisms of Thompson. The trick, he said, will be to do it in such a way as to deny Thompson any political benefit from the increased attention. (Fifty-two percent of voters polled by Quinnipiac didn't know enough about Thompson to form an opinion.)

“In attacking him, they do, to a certain extent, raise his profile,” said Birdsell.

To offset that, Birdsell predicted Bloomberg’s campaign to continue to alternate between pummeling Thompson and ignoring him altogether.

“If it’s just these serial sallies, quick punches on the nose followed by a period of benign neglect, they undermine the boost Thompson could get from the attention,” he said.

Bloomberg's people deny the notion that the Quinnipiac poll was a substantive measure of what is really felt among the public. They also say they’re not going to let Thompson’s attacks on the mayor’s administration go unchallenged.