BY ANDY HUMM | As the Democratic nominee for mayor in 2009, former City Comptroller William “Billy” Thompson came within five points of beating Republican-Independent Michael Bloomberg. That despite Bloomberg’s having steamrolled a City Council repeal of the term limits law voted for twice by the electorate and the Democrat being outspent 10 to one by the billionaire.
Thompson declared for 2013 almost immediately, but even with the backing of the powerful United Federation of Teachers and the fact that he was the only competitive candidate of color in the primary, Thompson’s 26 percent of the vote put him a distant second to Bill de Blasio, who, in unofficial returns, hovered just over the 40 percent needed to avoid an October 1 runoff.
At his campaign night gathering at the Eventi Hotel in midtown on September 10, Thompson said, “Tonight is for any of you who been counted out and told the world doesn’t have room for you.” With his supporters shouting, “Three more weeks!,” Thompson was clinging to the possibility of de Blasio falling below the 40 percent threshold by the time paper ballots are counted early next week. But pre-primary polls had Thompson losing badly to de Blasio in a runoff match-up.
Thompson always expected to get a much higher percentage of African-American votes than the pre-primary polls were showing. But exit polls had de Blasio tied with him for black votes at 42 percent each –– a shocking departure from New York’s history of identity politics, though de Blasio has an African-American wife and mixed race children.
Even more shocking was de Blasio winning the gay vote 47-34 over out lesbian Christine Quinn, with Thompson picking up just nine percent according to the Edison Research exit poll.
Thompson did get the support of many prominent African-American and Latino leaders, including Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP, Congressman Charles Rangel, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and former Democratic mayoral nominee Fernando Ferrer. But the Reverend Al Sharpton, who Thompson called “my friend,” stayed on the sidelines in the primary. Dukes credited Thompson for running in 2009 “when no one wanted to take on Mike Bloomberg.”
Thompson had a solid record of support on gay and AIDS issues as comptroller, especially using the city’s shareholder power to compel private companies to treat their LGBT employees equally. But in a year when out lesbian Speaker Christine Quinn was running, Thompson’s most visible gay support came from the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, which picked him as the candidate most likely to defeat Quinn whom they abhorred. More prominent LGBT figures willing to oppose Quinn went with Bill De Blasio, including Cynthia Nixon and Lady Bunny, who were used in a get-out-the-vote video by de Blasio’s campaign.
Leaving the stage primary night, Thompson was asked how he would improve his standing among gay voters, among whom he won just nine percent of the vote, in a possible runoff. “Look at the history,” he said. “Those in the LGBT community know I have been there.”
Few prominent gay people were on hand at Thompson’s gathering other than Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers.
Thompson’s secret weapon was supposed to be his deep ties to New York’s Orthodox Jewish community with whom he rallied on the Sunday prior to the primary. The candidate was introduced by right-wing anti-gay Assemblyman Dov Hikind and former Republican US Senator Al D’Amato –– both influential with the Orthodox base but odd choices on the brink of a Democratic primary.
Thompson’s election night entourage also included State Senators Jeff Klein and Diane Savino, two of the six nominal Democrats who defected from their party’s majority in Albany to caucus with Senate Republicans, shifting control of the body — again, an odd choice for Thompson if he is trying to solidify a Democratic base.
Alfonso Quiroz, a Queens gay activist and the husband of Jeff Simmons, Thompson’s former press secretary, said they were with Thompson the night before the primary in Jackson Heights –– what he called “New York City’s Latino gay capital” –– and they made it a point to go into Friends, “a gay institution.” Quiroz said that Thompson “got a rousing reception” in the bar, with “people standing up and cheering.”
If de Blasio stays above 40 percent, it will have been Thompson’s last hurrah.