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

While the mayor's office will not say what Bloomberg knew about the ties between McCabe-Thompson and Thompson during these years (and neither will Thompson), McCabe-Thompson's spokeswoman did. "She has dined at the mayor's house and interacted with him at countless political functions at Gracie Mansion and elsewhere," said Collins's e-mail. "She has also attended occasional events (e.g., a ball game) with him, first as Mr. Thompson's date and later as his wife." Asked if the museum came up at any of these get-togethers, Collins reported: "In fact, Ms. McCabe-Thompson has few casual or professional conversations in which she does not bring up the subject of the museum." Stu Loeser says that Thompson never asked Bloomberg or any of the current deputies or top EDC officials to help the museum, but Doctoroff and the ex-EDC heads, Andrew Alper and Josh Sirefman, did not reply to Voice e-mails asking about Thompson contacts. McCabe-Thompson hailed Sirefman as a former consultant to the museum in a submission she made to Stringer's office while he was EDC president.

The level of Bloomberg support kept growing even in 2009. On June 25, the city announced the award of New Market Tax Credits for the museum, valued at nearly $4 million, one of only five capital projects to be selected for this new program encouraging private investment. On September 30, the EDC board added another $2 million in direct construction financing, bringing the total to $16 million, including grants added by the City Council and Stringer, who is a friend and political ally of Thompson's. Stringer and Council Speaker Christine Quinn acknowledged in interviews that the administration's support of the project was, as Quinn put it, "a positive" and "a relevant fact" when they decided to add millions from their own, limited pools of capital funding. McCabe-Thompson put $3 million more of expected city funding into the package that was voted on by the state's Public Authorities Control Board (PACB) on September 16. She also listed $8 million in federal grants on the PACB submission, some of which remains unspecified. In addition to the $2.5 million in federal funds that flows through the empowerment zone, she says she's received $1 million in construction commitments from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) that are only awarded to nonprofits that can prove they've received three times that much in other public funding, suggesting again the triggering effect of the Bloomberg grants. NEH is also providing $717,000 to finance the first exhibits at the new location, and Rangel is seeking another $450,000 earmark for a storage vault on site (he previously earmarked $250,000, but would not answer questions about any role Thompson might have played).

Beyond the $1.4 million in city operating aid that the museum has received in the Bloomberg years, the mayor has also put $700,000 of his own money into it, steered through the Carnegie Corporation. McCabe-Thompson and Bloomberg LP refused to say if the company has given it anything else. Ironically, Thompson had the nerve in both debates to charge that Bloomberg was engaging in "pay to endorse" politics, alleging that the mayor was giving to groups "with the expectation of something in return." Thompson might have been projecting, but Bloomberg blowback could certainly have turned the allegation on its head. "Is that what I was doing when I gave hundreds of thousands to your wife's museum?" would have become every station's crushing debate sound bite.

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

Instead, Bloomberg just took the hit (by way of disclosure, my wife's nonprofit has also received Bloomberg grants, unsolicited and unaffected by my battering of him). Like Loeser's refusal to answer any of my museum questions before the election, Bloomberg's debate dodge on his supposed political philanthropy indicated that he, too, might have been pulling punches.

Thompson's quiet help for the museum did not, however, stop with city officials. A high state official in the Spitzer administration who asked not to be identified said that Thompson called him pursuing aid from the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC). Though Thompson did not reveal his ties to McCabe-Thompson, "anyone who was involved knew what was going on," said the official. The state has either awarded or is poised to award $17 million in construction support for the new site. McCabe-Thompson, who was Eliot Spitzer's moot court partner at Harvard Law School, got Spitzer to agree to equal the city's initial $12 million capital contribution, and he and then–Lieutenant Governor David Paterson attended a groundbreaking ceremony in September 2007 announcing the match.

But it took a jolt from Paterson, after Spitzer's resignation in March 2008, to actually get the state money flowing. Four months after Paterson became governor, he directed ESDC to begin processing the first $6 million in funding for the museum. Paterson declined to answer Voice questions about any contacts he might be aware of that Thompson had with him or other state officials, but he did tell a source that discussed this story with him that "Billy called everyone." ESDC chief Avi Schick wrote McCabe-Thompson on July 2, 2008, saying he was "pleased to inform her" that Paterson had "recommended" a $12 million Art & Culture grant for the museum. "To commence processing of this grant," Schick urged her to apply, putting a very loaded cart before the horse.

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