A Revved-Up Bill Thompson Flaunts His Caribbean Roots

Warring for Caribbean-American votes with mayoral rival Bill de Blasio, Bill Thompson spoke extensively about his own Caribbean roots in

Bill Thompson speaks with a Caribbean-American leader.
Bill Thompson huddles with a Caribbean community leader at today’s event.

Warring for Caribbean-American votes with mayoral rival Bill de Blasio" class="company-link">Bill de Blasio, Bill Thompson spoke extensively about his own Caribbean roots in front of a packed Brooklyn ballroom this morning.

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The candidate’s “Caribbean Americans for Thompson” effort, aimed at tapping into crucial black votes in central and eastern Brooklyn, struck a more populist tone than he typically wields–at one point even borrowing candidate Jimmy McMillan’s famous catchphrase.

“I’m gonna steal a line from somebody: the rent is too darn high,” declared Mr. Thompson. “We’re being pushed out of our neighborhoods all across the city, priced out of our neighborhoods … The rents keep going up, those of us who made our community strong, who stayed, aren’t able to live there any longer.”

Mr. Thompson was speaking at the Crystal Palace on Flatbush Avenue, where live Calypso music, steel drums and all, floated across the bright room. In his remarks, he told stories about how his grandfather emigrated from Saint Kitts, a Caribbean island, to Harlem and later bought a brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where he grew up. Although Mr. Thompson never overtly said that Caribbean voters should back him because of their shared background, he said his winning bid would be history-making  Caribbean-Americans.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to have a mayor in the City of New York who can trace his history back to an island like Saint Kitts?” Mr. Thompson boomed, as a slew of the several hundred audience members, seated at tables for a catered breakfast, shouted “Yes!” “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a mayor in City Hall who understands what we’re going through each and every day and works with us as opposed to against us?”

While not everyone at the event was an ardent Thompson supporter–one woman told Politicker she didn’t know much about him and had arrived with her church group–the attendees seemed to connect with Mr. Thompson’s message. His grandfather arrived from the Caribbean in 1917, he said, selling real estate, insurance and even furniture to make ends meet in America. His grandmother cooked and cleaned for wealthier people and made “the best cod fish anywhere.” The speech echoed some of the points made in one of Mr. Thompson’s first television ads, which also notes his Caribbean roots.

Mr. Thompson also rolled out a five-point plan to increase educational and business opportunities for Caribbean immigrants.

Of course, the speech hardly comes in a political vacuum; Mr. Thompson is locked in a tight race with Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Mr. de Blasio, whose wife is black and has been featured prominently at campaign stops and in commercials. Mr. de Blasio also recent secured the endorsement of Jamaican-American Congresswoman Yvette Clarke.

But Brooklyn Assemblyman Nick Perry, a Thompson backer who is also of Jamaican descent, did not think voters from his community would be drawn to any other candidate.

“If Bill doesn’t win the 58th, he can’t be mayor,” Mr. Perry said, name-dropping his own Assembly district. “People tend to like people who are like them and will demonstrate it in how they will behave politically.”

Ernest Skinner, a Flatbush resident, praised Mr. Thompson for running against Mayor Michael Bloomberg four years ago, but couldn’t say if Caribbean-Americans would back Mr. Thompson in the wake of Ms. Clarke’s endorsement.

“Bill de Blasio is a progressive, obviously. He has a Caribbean wife,” he said. “I couldn’t say who a majority will support.”

A Revved-Up Bill Thompson Flaunts His Caribbean Roots