Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bill Thompson quietly builds formidable mayoral campaign

Thompson, 59, is running the most traditional campaign of the top Democrats. His decision to act above the fray is both true to his even-keel personality and a deliberate strategy.

Updated: Sunday, May 12, 2013, 10:05 AM


























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The mayoral campaign of Bill Thompson has quietly picked up several significant endorsements.

He's the stealth candidate for mayor.
As rivals Christine Quinn and Bill de Blasio attack each other and John Liu rails against a federal investigation of his fund-raising, former city Controller Bill Thompson seems content to barely make waves at all.
At a recent Democratic candidates forum in Manhattan, Thompson sat silently when de Blasio portrayed Quinn as a puppet of Mayor Bloomberg.
At a City Hall news conference, Thompson interrupted to change the subject when a supporter blasted other candidates as driven by ego.
And when Liu said former Rep. Anthony Weiner should “shut down his tweeting account” before plunging into the mayoral race, Thompson simply said Weiner had every right to run.
Thompson’s decision to act above the fray is both true to his even-keel personality and a deliberate strategy.
He has staked his candidacy on building a coalition of blacks, Hispanics and Orthodox Jews, a game plan that relies more on grabbing endorsements than grabbing headlines.
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He is also trying to project gravitas, to reflect his government experience and reassure moderate whites who might be uneasy about voting for an African-American.
“He’s at it like a long-distance race while the others are sprinting,” said Prof. Christina Greer of Fordham University. “While the others fight, it leaves him as the even-keeled grownup in the middle.”
But ceding the spotlight carries risk. Rivals believe it could lead to another defeat, after Thompson’s surprisingly narrow loss to Bloomberg in the 2009 mayoral race.
“Four years ago, people thought he was passionless,” said a top staffer on another campaign. “How is this mild-mannered, ‘say nothing’ run going to change that?”
Confidants maintain that Thompson is a different candidate in 2013.
While his public schedule is not as frenzied as those of rivals, he’s attending more events and devoting more time to fund-raising than he did in 2009, insiders say. His campaign team has undergone a makeover, too. He has hired veteran operatives from state and national races, notably Jonathan Prince, who worked on the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton and John Edwards.
“He has stepped up significantly," said a former aide. “He’s got more fire in the belly this time. And he’s surrounded by fresh faces, who are more able to push him to do things he’d shrug off before.”
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Thompson agrees.
“I think I am a stronger candidate this time, a better-prepared candidate,” he said. “I’m building an even stronger team and learning lessons from 2009.”
Thompson, 59, is running the most traditional campaign of the top Democrats.
He has steadily rolled out endorsements as he attempts to build his coalition. He has touted the support of civic leaders like Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, and former Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch, an effort to reassure a business community nervous about Bloomberg’s departure.
He also has positioned himself in the center on some of the hot-button issues — for example, declaring that he would reform, not eliminate, the controversial police tactic known as stop-and-frisk. But there are warning signs.
Although he was his party’s nominee in 2009, Thompson is the least known of the top Democratic candidates in 2013 — 52% of those surveyed in an April Quinnipiac Poll said they had no opinion of him.
Thompson believes that is because he is the lone major Democratic candidate not in office.He is a managing director at a municipal bond firm, earning $727,621 in 2012, his tax returns show.
Thompson’s stoicism could revive criticisms that surrounded him four years ago.
“People asked, ‘Where’s the ‘there’ there?” Greer said. “Even when he was riled up about something, it didn’t seem real.”
The rare moments Thompson displays emotion remain surprising. When he pounded the table and yelled at Liu during an exchange over stop-and-frisk at a Queen forum in March, it drew gasps from the crowd.
“If you try and project something you‘re not, it doesn‘t sell,“ said Thompson. “This is who I am and I think this is what the voters want to see.“
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