Bill Thompson admits that he is an underdog.
“Am I an underdog?When you have to face somebody who is going to spend $120 to $150 million, you are automatically the underdog,” he said. “But after eight years of Mike Bloomberg being in City Hall, the people of NewYork realize that he's not there for him. If he's there for four more years, will that help or hurt us, and more New Yorkers are saying 'not in my best interest.'”
And recent poll numbers show that Thompson is making gains on Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and what was once seen as a long-shot campaign is starting to look much more competitive. During a sit down with the editorial staff of this paper, Thompson touched on a number of issues, most notably the mayor's handling of the school system. The current city comptroller says that he would empower teachers to teach and focus less on standardized testing.
“'I'm not allowed to teach anymore,'” Thompson said he has heard from teachers. “'It's nine o'clock, I have to start reading, and at ten o'clock, I have to stop.' This belief that all teachers can be fit into a box and all children are the same is a mistake.”
In addition to criticisms of the mayor for his support of overturning term limits, Thompson also touched on his tenure as chair of the Board of Education, large-scale development in the city, and his time as city comptroller. Here is a bit of Thompson in his own words:
On criticisms about his tenure as chair of the Board of Education:
I would start first by saying “who cares what happened ten years ago?” You didn't have mayoral control back in the 1980s and 1990s. I wasn't chancellor of the public school system, I was chair of the board. We had a decentralized school system that was totally dysfunctional, and I helped to change that. Legislation that got passed at the end of 1996 that created a re-centralized school system. Mayoral control couldn't have happened if that didn't occur. I'm proud of the record I had back there, and I came into a dysfunctional system and made change, but I don't think the people of New York City want to talk about 1999, they want to talk about 2009.
On creating jobs:
And I think what you have to do is create a greater focus on smaller businesses all across the city of New York. The biggest growth area in the city are those that are self-employed, they are probably about 20 percent of the workforce. You are doing nothing for one-fifth of your workforce.
On development in the city:
I'm not against large-scale development, but I will cite two of the biggest announcements over the last ten years :Hudson Yards on the west side of Manhattan and Atlantic yards in Downtown Brooklyn. How many units of housing are there? How many jobs? What has happened since the ribbon cuttings and the big announcements? You haven't seen anything that has occurred there. I'm not against large-scale development, but I'm for smart growth in conjunction with communities and not by going around them. This mega-project that you give all to one developer isn't working. There are other models that work better...like Battery Park City.
On Atlantic Yards; It's starting to look like a basketball stadium and one building.
On his time as comptroller:
The thing that I'm proudest of is that I talked about creating a different comptroller's office and redefining it, and I think I've done that. Listen to the candidates for comptroller, and all of them will talk about doing the job like I've done it. It's a job now that everybody realizes is not just about the bottom line.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg is facing an unprecedented third term running the city of New York, and with it an unprecedented amount of criticism for what many across the city see as a power grab by overturning the will of the voters and signing legislation passed by the City Council allowing his run for four more years.
But the mayor is nothing if not confident. And when asked about his decision to run for the office again, he simply stated that he was the best man for the job.
“Look, if the public doesn't want me, they don't want me,” he told this paper last week. “I just think there are some things that we could continue to do, and it would really require somebody that wasn't beholden to special interests.”
When he first took office, the mayor pushed Albany hard to disband the Board of Education and give control of city schools to the Mayor's Office. He got his wish, and the mayor touted a rise in test scores and the city's ability to attract bright and ambitious teachers to the New York City school system as one area of his administration that will be looked on as part of his legacy, whether he is elected to a third term or not.
“If I had told you that our city kids would be testing very near the state average, you would have told me 'impossible,'” Bloomberg said.
During our 45-minute interview, the mayor also touched on topics such as the slowdown in development across the city, the massive Coney Island and Willets Point projects, and cleaning the Gowanus Canal, as well as getting labor unions and developers together to agree to work for lower wages so that construction projects can start moving forward. Here are a few direct quotes from the mayor himself:
On when he decided to run for a third term:
I was coming up the steps of the 86th Street station of the Lexington IRT, and there's this woman at the top of the stairs holding a little baby, and she said “Great job, mayor,” to which my standard response is, “thank you, my mother thinks so.” And we giggled , and I said “the baby is how old,” and she said “six months or whatever,” and I said “the good news is that the schools are getting much better for when your child is ready for the public school system.” And she looked at me very earnestly and said “I know as long as you're mayor, the school's will get better.”
On parental involvement in the schools:
What you don't want is to have parents come in and start running the schools. We want our teachers and our principals to decide how to run the schools. There are parents that say that [there is not enough involvement]; they tend to be activists who want to bring back the old school boards where only three percent of the population really ever had any say. The question is, what do you mean by parental involvement? For the first time parents have choices between charter schools and public schools and special schools and themed schools. Every school has a parent coordinator. I don't agree that parents should be deciding in the classroom, that's why we pay trained professionals.
On whether the city's large-scale development projects are overly ambitious:
No, the zoning for Willets Point was started for the 1964 World's Fair and we just got it done. So for the next 10 or 15 years, I don't know how fast the economy is going to come back, but when you want to build, the zoning will have been done. That's the tough part.
On stalled development projects:
I want make sure that they are safe when you walk by, so we have a program to make sure that somebody visits every day or every month. We want to make sure that the material is not going to blow away or kids aren't going to break down the fences and get in. It's also true that there is still a lot of construction going on.
On Superfund status for the Gowanus Canal:
If you have Superfund take it over, you won't live long enough to see it clean. You just won't. That's just not they way [the federal government] works. The federal government is not good at running things, they are good at taking tax money and redistributing it, but with the exception of the military,you can't go and ask them to run something.