Bill Thompson Campaigns Uptown With African Leaders

Bill Thompson in Harlem today.

Bill Thompson campaigning in Harlem this afternoon.

Former Comptroller Bill Thompson spent the day criss-crossing Upper Manhattan, trying to the rally black and Latino voters he’s counting on less than a week before the primary.

For part of the afternoon, the mayoral candidate, who is polling in second place, was shepherded through Harlem by a local Imam and other African leaders, who greeted residents and business owners to the beat of traditional West African drums.

“The next mayor of New York!” declared Imam Konate Souleimane, dressed in a traditional white robe, at a small gathering before the group hit the streets, where he stressed the need for leaders to get their communities out to vote.

While Mr. Thomspon isn’t exactly known as the most magnetic campaigner on the trail, the soft-spoken former comptroller and his wife, Elsie, were greeted enthusiastically by local residents, who vowed that this year would be different from 2009 when Mr. Thompson came within five points of beating Mayor Michael Bloomberg, despite being vastly outspent.

“I wish you the best man! I want you to make it man,” said one supporter who approached the group on West 116th Street.

“Welcome home, brother,” another said.

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Bill Thompson and his wife, Elsie McCabe Thompson.

“Thompson’s the man with integrity! He understands the problems we face in the city,” said Abdul Salam, 50, a longtime local resident who predicted that Mr. Thompson would emerge victorious and dismissed recent polls showing Mr. Thompson badly trailing Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, even among black voters.

“He understands the deficit, He understands how to get by. He understands how you have to bring people together as black and whites, Latinos, everybody together,” he said. “Thompson’s that kind of man. He’s man with honor, decency and respect.”

Cab driver Kane Mamadou, 48, who is originally from Mali, said he felt that Mr. Thompson, who currently lives in Harlem, was the only candidate of the bunch who could relate to the African community and its struggles.

“I think Bill knows the problems of the New York … Bloomberg did a great job, but we need somebody who will come out of this kind of neighborhood getting to the mayor’s office,” he explained, stressing the need to preserve affordable housing for the community.

When many West African immigrants moved to West 116th Street in the late 80s and early 90s, he said, much of the area was abandoned. “We put life in Harlem. But now today, Harlem is too good for us. We’re being kicked out. We need someone who will see how value we put in Harlem,” he said.

Tagging along on the tour was drummer Baye Kouyate, 38, who was also raised in Mali, and explained that the “talking drum” he was beating was traditionally played before speeches from presidents and kings.

“If today we play the talking drum … that means he’s gonna be the one. Because this is the ancestral talking drum a long time ago, in West Africa,” he said, with a giant grin. “We transmit the message through the drums.”

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Bill Thompson campaigns at the Harlem Market.

But not everyone the Mr. Thompson greeted was necessarily a fan. Rachel Rankin, 63, a white resident who moved to Central Harlem about five years ago, described herself as a huge supporter of former front-runner Christine Quinn, and said she was panicked over Mr. de Blasio’s rise.

“Boy, I think the fix is in. All of a sudden the 6-foot-five football player comes in with the son and the ads,” she said angrily, arguing that Mr. de Blasio didn’t have the same record as Ms. Quinn or Mr. Thompson. “He’s just the bully big white boy from Boston,” she said, suggesting to Mr. Thompson’s wife that perhaps Ms. Quinn might support Mr. Thompson in the runoff to stop Mr. de Blasio–who was coincidentally campaigning nearby.

“From your lips to God’s earns,” Mrs. Thompson replied. (A runoff will be held if no candidate reaches 40 percent of the vote.)

After touring the Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market, Mr. Thompson told Politicker that he felt good about the response he was getting on the streets in Upper Manhattan and other neighborhoods, where voters seemed more excited than when he first kicked off campaigning–despite lingering questions about Mr. Thompson’s ability to connect.

“Things feel very good,” he said. “I think that people are excited about the prospect of next Tuesday’s election.”