In an auditorium at Hunter College last night, in front of a few hundred supporters waving “Eight is Enough” signs, Bill Thompson delivered what his campaign was billing as a Major Speech on Term Limits.
But the event felt more like a rally than a Major Speech. Before Mr. Thompson appeared, a surrogate prepped the crowd with some lukewarm chants of “Eight is enough!” and a call-and-response that went “Respect! Democracy!”
When comptroller nominee John Liu emerged from stage left, he got a warm response and did his best to fire up the crowd. Then public advocate Bill de Blasio gave a more sobering account of why the term limits change was so “troubling.” (But, as with so many of Mr. Thompson’s supporters, Mr. de Blasio included a caveat that he “respects” Mayor Bloomberg, if not his term-limits decision.) “This is the referendum we never got to have,” Mr. de Blasio told the crowd.
When Mr. Thompson stepped onto the stage, the crowd cheered loudly. After thanking his fellow candidates, Mr. Thompson launched into a stirring history of struggles for democracy, invoking Abraham Lincoln, the struggle for women’s suffrage, and the Civil Rights crusaders Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.
As he spoke a cell phone rang in the third row, and a middle-aged white man pulled his phone out of the pocket and put it to his ear.
“Bill Thompson—he’s running for mayor,” the man said, in an outdoor voice. “Are you out and about? What’s tomorrow look like Yeah, that sounds good.”
“I’m in an auditorium—yeah, that’s Bill Thompson,” he said before hanging up.
At that point, Mr. Thompson brought his history up to the present. “We’ve come so far, how can we back down now because of one person’s actions?” Mr. Thompson said.
Shortly thereafter, the crowd broke into the “Eight is enough” chant it had been practicing. Mr. Thompson smiled and looked unsure whether to join in. He tapped his hand in time against the podium. When the crowd finished, he continued. “A number of us disagreed with the concept of term limits—myself included—but we accepted the will of the electorate,” he said.
When he mentioned former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the crowd broke into boos. A woman yelled “Hell no!” and Mr. Thompson laughed nervously. “Republican Rudy Giuliani was wrong for trying to stay in office then, and Republican Mayor Bloomberg is wrong for trying to stay in office now,” Mr. Thompson said.
He claimed Mayor Bloomberg had plotting the term limits action as early as the spring of 2008, and Mr. Thompson questioned the mayor’s contention that he was running on progress, not politics. “What he did is the worst kind of politics there is,” Mr. Thompson said.
The speech did not illuminate specific policies. Mr. Thompson said he would create a “Mitchell-Lama program for the 21st century,” and that he would create living wage jobs, “put the public back in public education,” and reduce taxes and fees. “As one of my first acts as mayor,” he said, “I will call for a referendum on term limits.”
“Our Declaration of Independence states that all are created equal, and I believe that to be the case,” Mr. Thompson said.
When he concluded, the crowd again broke into “Eight is enough” chants as Mr. Thompson smiled and waved from the stage.
Outside, former mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer told me he thought the speech was “terrific,” and that he wasn’t concerned by yesterday’s Marist poll that showed Mr. Thompson down 16 points. “Marist had me down a few days before at 40 down. Excuse me? I don’t think they can count very well,” he said. (Mr. Ferrer lost by 19 percentage points.)
What can Mr. Thompson do to close whatever gap there might be?
“Win. Work hard. Win,” Mr. Ferrer said. “I think Bloomberg has worn out his welcome and people have seen that he’s not the truth-telling down the middle technocrat that he promised to be. He’s a rather sleazy politician.”