Saturday, January 09, 2010

Village Voice unearths explanation for Thompson-Bloomberg "mirage" election; mayor poured money into pet project of Comptroller's wife

Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Thompson "just doesn't get it, does he?" observed No Land Grab's Eric McCLure in October. "Let us offer up some free political advice — criticizing Bloomberg for being an underdeveloper, no matter the audience, is not a recipe for a November 3rd upset."

This week, the Village Voice's Wayne Barrett writes of Thompson, "He was no doubt more mayoral understudy than overseer," and explains why, in an expose that would be all the more shocking if the daily newspapers took it seriously.

The article is headlined Bloomberg and Thompson: The (Really) Odd Couple: Now it can be told: The surprising ties between the billionaire mayor and the poor slob who ran against him. The whole thing is well worth a read, but here's the gist:
If voters had a vague sense that this was a mirage of a mayoral election, what follows is a damning set of facts that shows that these two supposed opponents were actually far more connected than we ever knew. They shared a very personal and subterranean agenda, the funding of a project dear to Thompson's heart....

The mayor has directed or triggered between $43 million and $51 million in public and personal subsidies into a museum project led by Thompson's current wife and longtime companion, Elsie McCabe-Thompson, dumping $2 million of additional city funding into it as late as September 30, in the middle of the mayoral campaign.
The strategy

For Bloomberg, as Barrett reports, Thompson was the preferred candidate, the one he wanted to nudge Rep. Anthony Weiner out of the race. That was accomplished by the one-two of feeding the New York Post dirt on Weiner and encouraging Thompson to run, knowing that white Democratic candidates want to avoid racially divisive primaries.

Thompson's problem

Why did Thompson look like an understudy? Because he didn't criticize Bloomberg on issues like development or Atlantic Yards. Barrett notes that, as a member of the city's Industrial Development Agency, Thompson almost always supported Bloomberg's projects. Nor did he post many tough audits, thus leaving little distinction between them.

(In a print article this week--not online--about Bloomberg and new Comptroller John Liu, headlined "Battle of the Bullpens," the New York Observer quotes a former Thompson aide as saying the previous comptroller "had a laid-back quality to him.")

In conclusion

Barrett concludes that Thompson, as well as the City Council led by Christine Quinn, fell down on the job--and worse:
The city charter was rewritten in 1989 to enhance mayoral power. It is the soul of the city and depends upon an independent comptroller and Council as the constitutional counterpoints to mayoral excess. Yet that is hardly what we've had in Bloomberg's first two terms. He has driven this project so far that the public funding, including the state grants he sparked, exceed by far the $38 million cost of the museum's core construction. There is no way for us to know if the city's museum largesse was a motive for Thompson's obsequious oversight of the Bloomberg era, or simply a consequence of the intertwine between them. He was no doubt more mayoral understudy than overseer. There is also no way to know if the Council's museum generosity had anything to do with why Thompson never noticed its bogus slush-fund budget documents, or even audited its discretionary expenditures after the scandal blew...

Bill Thompson, the city's newly discovered media hero, seems so understated and reassuring that he deflects attention from the mess his private life has always been. He took a favorable mortgage and credit line in 2008 from a bank his office had done billions in business with, getting a letter from the bank saying the transaction was proper rather than doing what thousands of low-level city employees do every year, seek an opinion from the Conflict of Interest Board. When he worked as an investment banker in the '90s, he failed to take key securities tests six times in three years, operated without a license, and broke a half-dozen securities regulations.

...Good things can come from bad, and perhaps the Museum for African Art astride Museum Mile will prove to be that. Elsie and Bill Thompson, as well as Mike Bloomberg and David Paterson, will certainly celebrate it when the grand opening occurs late next year.

...We do know, though, regardless of what the museum becomes, that this is not the way it should have been built, one compromise atop another, a memorial to machination. The sheer size of the Bloomberg subsidies, as well as his eagerness to add to them right into October, has cast a cloud over an election already darkened by the unprecedented end-run around two popular referendums. The bizarre specter of a mayor unloading public funding on a project so tied to his public bookkeeper and eventual opponent has distorted democracy, both in the years before this election, and in the only moment when New Yorkers, at least theoretically, had their say. If legitimacy is necessary to govern, even for the richest man in New York, he cannot rig consent.

2 comments:

  1. Just when one thought New York politics couldn't get any dirtier...

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  2. Well Eric, wait until next week when SCOTUS rules corporations can spend all they want on add for or against politicians.

    alan

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