The Soft-Spoken Coalition of Bill Thompson

Lots of Democrats, including some very important ones, support Bill Thompson for mayor. Some support him more strongly than others.

“This is, for me, a very great day,” he said on Oct. 9. “I am honored and proud to accept the president’s support.”

Mr. Thompson was standing at a podium by himself, addressing reporters in his seventh-floor campaign office on Madison Avenue in front of a wall plastered with posters. The press conference had been prompted by a generic statement of support for the “Democratic nominee,” delivered earlier that day by a White House spokesman who avoided mentioning Mr. Thompson’s name.

“Do you expect that we’re going to hear the words ‘I endorse Bill Thompson’ coming out of Barack Obama’s mouth?” one newspaper reporter asked.

“I think that you will definitely hear those words come out of the president’s mouth,” Mr. Thompson replied.

Mr. Thompson believes, not unreasonably, that his party will ultimately support him in his attempt to defeat Michael Bloomberg.

He went on at the campaign event to point out, correctly, that prominent New York Democratic officialdom, by and large, is with him.

“This week, we had two United States senators endorse my candidacy,” he said. “We had a governor endorse my candidacy. Democrats across the city and around the state and others are joining us each and every day. I think there are very few Democrats who are supporting Mike Bloomberg. You haven’t seen the wholesale defections that you’ve seen in the past. Democrats are coming on board.”

They are certainly coming on board, but with varying levels of enthusiasm.

For example, the two other citywide Democratic candidates, both outspoken Bloomberg critics, seem to mean it.

“I’m supporting Bill Thompson and I’m going to do whatever I can to turn out the vote for the November 3rd election,” said City Councilman John Liu, who is the Democratic nominee for City Comptroller.

A spokesman for Bill de Blasio said, “Bill has been and will continue to be available to speak at Thompson events and on his behalf he will help mobilize our supporters for Election Day.”

But one of the U.S. senators Mr. Thompson was referring to, Chuck Schumer, endorsed Mr. Thompson at an Oct. 5 event in Union Square Park and then said, “I’m not going to say anything negative about Michael Bloomberg.”

(Later, when asked how he would help elect Mr. Thompson, a spokesman for Mr. Schumer—who can be plenty aggressive against Republicans when he actually feels that they need to be defeated—said, “Their staffs are working together now to figure out the best ways the Senator can be helpful down the stretch.”)

 

ONE THING Mr. Thompson seems to have going for him is that he’s genuinely liked and respected by his colleagues. He’s the sort of guy they seem to feel good about helping, even when they are not naturally inclined to pick fights with the mayor.

On the morning of Oct. 10, Mr. Thompson stood on a construction-filled corner on Second Avenue and announced that he had been endorsed by every elected Democrat on Manhattan’s East Side: Assemblymen Micah Kellner and Jonathan Bing; State Senator Liz Krueger; Borough President Scott Stringer; and, in absentia, City Council members Jessica Lappin and Dan Gardonick and Representative Carolyn Maloney.

Such a display would not have been possible for the Democratic nominee four years ago.

Back then, Mr. Garodnick was the Democratic nominee for City Council, running for an open seat against an openly gay, liberal Republican who had the backing of Mr. Bloomberg. Mr. Gardonick touted his Democratic bona fides in that race, but declined to say whether he supported Mr. Bloomberg or the Democrat, Freddy Ferrer.

Mr. Bing, likewise, was neutral during that mayor’s race.

“And that’s with him having endorsed my opponents twice,” Mr. Bing said of the mayor. “So, it’s certainly not a question of antagonism towards the mayor.”

This time around, Mr. Bing said he was supporting Mr. Thompson, at least in part, out of loyalty.

“Billy is the Democratic nominee, and he’s committed to having a real campaign here on the East Side,” he said. “And he’s always been there with me. I mean, every campaign I run, he’s spent part of the day campaigning with me in my district. It’s the least I can do to support him.”

Mr. Bing said the mayor won his Assembly district “by 85 percent” in 2005, and is likely to win a majority of votes there again. The goal for Mr. Thompson was simply to simply perform better than Mr. Ferrer did four years ago, because with such a high voter turnout, every percentage point Mr. Thompson gains “is worth thousands of votes,” said Mr. Bing.

So even when the timbre is strongly pro-Thompson, it’s not necessarily anti–Thompson’s opponent.

Take the Democratic state committee, which, according to chair Jay Jacobs, is working hard on Mr. Thompson’s behalf this year. 

In 2005, the party taunted Mr. Bloomberg for his affiliation with the Republican Party. (One of the taunters back then, notably, was current Bloomberg campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson.)

“As Pataki Campaigns Today in NYC, Mike Avoids Him” was the November 3, 2005, press release from the state Democratic Party.

One state staffer at the time was actually charged with following Mr. Bloomberg wearing a George Bush mask. (Mr. Bloomberg left the Republican Party in 2007 in preparation, ostensibly, for a long-shot, independent presidential bid that never materialized. He’s now running for reelection on the Republican and Independence Party lines, but is not a member of any political party.)

Today, the Bush impersonator—a nice-guy operative named Edgar Santana—still works for the party, coordinating media inquires for the state chairman. He wears neatly adjusted ties and no mask. No one has taken over his mayor-harassing duties this year.

 

ON SATURDAY, Oct. 10, after a press event to mark the opening of a new campaign office in Harlem, Mr. Thompson proceeded to walk up and down Amsterdam Avenue in the 130s looking for voters to greet.

There weren’t as many as he expected, he repeatedly noted, aloud.

Suddenly, a blue, four-door Chrysler rolled up along the curb and began honking, then stopped short. Out popped Assemblyman Keith Wright, chairman of the New York Democratic County Committee.

“President Obama wants him to be our next mayor,” bellowed Mr. Wright, wearing khaki pants, sneakers and a baseball hat, injecting a bolt of energy into Mr. Thompson’s entourage.

“President Obama! Said Bill Thompson. Is our next mayor,” yelled Mr. Wright. “Next mayor! Alcalde!”

Mr. Thompson smiled broadly, the crowd marched on, and by the next block, Mr. Wright and his contagious energy had vanished. (Really: He was gone.) Mr. Thompson pressed on.

About a half-hour later, after having come in contact with maybe a few dozen voters, Mr. Thompson turned around and headed back to the chauffeured SUV that awaited him. On his way there, he said he looked forward to meeting with President Obama, now that he’s gotten his endorsement.

“I’ve met the president before. But each time, it’s special,” said Mr. Thomspon.

Their last meeting was on Sept. 14, when the president gave a speech on Wall Street. Before walking on stage to deliver his speech, Mr. Obama was held in a small green room, with a few elected officials. According to accounts from people in the room, Mr. Bloomberg discussed golf. So did President Obama. Mr. Thompson told them that he, unfortunately, had no time for it.

One Democrat who was there expressed hope to one of Mr. Obama’s aides that the president would, in that intimate setting, somehow signal a preference for Mr. Thompson over Mr. Bloomberg. Even a small gesture, like pulling him off to the side for a quick, private chat, would do the trick.

It didn’t happen.

One month and a semi-endorsement later, Mr. Thompson is hoping for his moment with the president, which he predicted would probably come at a Democratic National Committee event in New York on Oct. 20.

For now, he says, he’s happy with the attention he’s already gotten.

“It’s the president of the United States, you know,” he said, with conviction. “The opportunity to talk for a couple of minutes, whether it’s about issues facing the country, or if it’s about golf for a second—it’s an honor.”

The Soft-Spoken Coalition of Bill Thompson