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

In one more strange twist, the mayoral wannabe remained registered at the Brooklyn home that Kinard lived in for years after he left, though McCabe-Thompson's neighbors on West 97th Street say that his city car and police vehicles were parked morning after morning outside her door since 2005. Mono Cleaners, around the corner from her condo building, gave us tickets for the suits and shirts on McCabe's account that he picked up and dropped off there for years.

Stranger still, the clearest examples of Thompson's efforts on behalf of the museum occur right after he recused himself from having anything to do with it. In early 2005, he asked Deputy Mayor Mark Shaw and Council Speaker Gifford Miller to fund it. Shaw recalled that the contact occurred while the administration was putting together the budget at the start of the year. Miller's appointment diaries indicate that Thompson talked with him on April 22, a month after he recused himself and four days before he filed for divorce. It was the only time Thompson ever asked the Council speaker to fund a group, a source close to the former speaker tells the Voice, and Miller did, putting $750,000 into the capital budget. Shaw recalls going to the budget office with the Thompson request. Though it was a year later that the Post reported he was smitten, the comptroller was recklessly proving it, despite his recusal, even before he sought a divorce.

The Bloomberg administration quickly got the message. Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff had been a critic of the project, according to a former EDC official who attended a meeting that included him and McCabe-Thompson. "Doctoroff didn't want to delay development of the site," recalled Barbara Resnicow, a senior vice president at the corporation who dealt with "the skepticism about it" at the top of the agency from 2002 through 2004. EDC had agreed in the late '90s, when Rudy Giuliani was mayor, to sell four city-owned parcels on the current site to the museum. But five or six years later, this prime property was still vacant and appeared to be going nowhere. "I have a clear memory," says Resnicow. "Doctoroff was very negative about the project." But, starting in 2005, the city's attitude suddenly shifted. It wasn't just that the McCabe/Thompson connection started to surface then, it was that Thompson's relationship with City Hall was simultaneously undergoing an overhaul.

Voters had no idea how much these two were intertwined.
Mario Tama/Getty Image
Voters had no idea how much these two were intertwined.


With Special Reporting by Aaron Howell and L.C.E. Jordan

Research assistance by Steve P. Ercolani, T.J. Raphael, Kate Rose, Amanda Sakuma, and Grace Smith

In 2004, Thompson decided not to run against Bloomberg in the 2005 election, a race he had toyed with briefly. Instead, Thompson endorsed Democrat Fernando Ferrer, but became so helpful to Bloomberg that his foot-in-each-camp dexterity was mocked in news accounts. When Thompson made his endorsement that August, he was asked to name three specific things Ferrer would do as mayor that Bloomberg hadn't, and he demurred, forcing the reporter to see if he could name one or two. "You'd have to ask Freddy the question," said Thompson, who had gone out of his way to praise Bloomberg the day before the press conference and the day before that. Ferrer raised questions about the rising reading and math scores that Bloomberg was trumpeting, and Thompson told reporters he had no intention of auditing school achievement claims, saving that for his own campaign in 2009. In fact, during the 2005 campaign, Thompson did not host a single press conference revealing a critical audit of any Bloomberg agency. The Bloomberg camp understood that Democrat Thompson had no choice but to endorse Democrat Ferrer, especially since he was trying to build an alliance with Latinos for his own planned 2009 run, but a Thompson political adviser now acknowledges that the mayor "was quite happy" with Thompson's 2005 performance.

So, no doubt, was Elsie. The city increased its annual operating grant for the museum from $62,700 to $417,800 in the budget adopted that June. The Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) says the hike was a "one-time commitment from the mayor and the City Council," coinciding with the calls to Shaw and Miller (Miller's father was a Thompson appointee on the New York Public Library board). In fact, although the 2005 grant was the museum's largest ever, its operating subsidy remained at $192,000 the next year and continues at roughly that level, three times its pre-2005 average.

The day after Thompson's lukewarm endorsement of Ferrer, EDC's executive committee approved the discounted sale of the four city-owned parcels to the museum. Thompson joined Bloomberg at a press conference announcing a minority-hiring program shortly before the election, and two days after Bloomberg crushed Ferrer, the full EDC board approved the property sale to the museum for $200,000 less than the appraised price. The ultimate discount was far greater since EDC stuck with its 2005 appraisal when the sale finally closed in 2007, though it had the legal right to update it, a substantial potential savings for the museum and its condo partners, who are building lavish apartments overlooking the park 14 stories above the three-story museum.

The lovefest between Bloomberg and Thompson was at its peak in 2007, when Bloomberg announced at a Guggenheim press event in February that the city would put $12 million into the project. It was a stunning reversal. A week before, Thompson said he was "delighted" about Bloomberg's budget, expressing none of a comptroller's traditional caveats of concern. By April, Thompson declared that the mayor's budget was "fiscal integrity at its best." And in May, Thompson invited Bloomberg to speak at Tufts, where Thompson is a trustee, and the mayor declared: "I think Bill will go down in history as maybe the best comptroller the city has ever had." That November, the New York Empowerment Zone board approved the final $2 million of a $2.5 million grant for the project. Doctoroff was a member of the board, and if Congressman Charles Rangel, the state board member, or the city board member objects to a project, it isn't funded. When Wall Street started unraveling, Thompson installed a Bloomberg terminal in his office, just like the mayor has in his City Hall bullpen.

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