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

It's unclear when the decision was made to bankroll the museum, though Disney's spokesman connects it to a decision Eisner made shortly before he left in 2005, when he donated the company-owned Tishman collection of African art to the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art. The Disney check wasn't written until McCabe-Thompson organized that phony 2007 groundbreaking ceremony with Spitzer, which preceded actual construction by two years but ostensibly did generate donations tied to an ongoing project. Disney fits a pattern, with JP Morgan Chase and others bringing wheelbarrows of money to the museum just as they steered them out of Thompson's office.

Good things can come from bad, and perhaps the Museum for African Art astride Museum Mile will prove to be that. Elsie and Bill Thompson, as well as Mike Bloomberg and David Paterson, will certainly celebrate it when the grand opening occurs late next year. So will many New Yorkers, especially African-Americans. The museum has put on hailed exhibits in the past, and is even beginning to assemble the first collection of its own. And if it inspires and informs up the road, it may transcend the stain of its origins. The price we have paid as a city is not visible, while its art will pack school and charter buses.

We do know, though, regardless of what the museum becomes, that this is not the way it should have been built, one compromise atop another, a memorial to machination. The sheer size of the Bloomberg subsidies, as well as his eagerness to add to them right into October, has cast a cloud over an election already darkened by the unprecedented end-run around two popular referendums. The bizarre specter of a mayor unloading public funding on a project so tied to his public bookkeeper and eventual opponent has distorted democracy, both in the years before this election, and in the only moment when New Yorkers, at least theoretically, had their say. If legitimacy is necessary to govern, even for the richest man in New York, he cannot rig consent.

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

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