Thompson's Pension Pals: A Wound Waiting to be Re-Opened

In last week's Democratic mayoral debate, feisty Queens city councilman Tony Avella managed to open one small cut over the eye of his opponent, city comptroller Bill Thompson. It was hardly a bleeder. Thompson closed it quickly. But if incumbent Mike Bloomberg takes aim at the wound, it could easily turn into a nasty gash.

The cut opened when Avella landed a glancing punch of a question, asking Thompson if he'd been questioned by authorities concerning the public pension investment scandal unearthed by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

"Absolutely not," thundered an indignant Thompson. "The scandal hasn't touched my office."

Avella's only comeback was to cite a pair of ex- Thompson pension aides who managed to land investment deals after leaving the comptroller's office. Thompson slipped that blow easily, pointing out that the former pension analysts had been recruited from the private sector to work for his office and later had re-joined it after being submitted to what he said was the same routine and rigorous screening given all such pension brokers.

Actually, there are several much tougher questions for Thompson on this subject, although none were raised by Avella, nor in any post-debate analyses offered in the press...

On the comptroller's watch, several long time and close political supporters have scored millions from his handling of pension funds. The Voice reported in May that a pal and supporter of Thompson's named Bill Howell scored a cool $3 million fee on a $150 million investment plan for Northern Ireland strongly championed by the comptroller. When the Voice asked Thompson about it, he claimed not to even know that his friend was the sole placement agent on the deal - the exact kind of insider trading targeted by Cuomo's probe.

Howell, who scored several other lucrative city pension deals as well, has long been occasional business partners with Norman Levy, an influential, below-the-radar lobbyist who is one of Thompson's closest allies and top fundraisers.

A separate Voice story detailed the small fortune reaped in the pension placement business at Thompson's office by another comptroller ally and supporter, Jack Jordan, the former transit police union leader who pled guilty to perjury charges in 1998. Jordan isn't even a registered broker, but has nonetheless been a fixture on the city's pension investment scene for years.

Again, Thompson insisted he was vague on Jordan's dealings. "I think Jack does do some placement," he told the Voice. "I don't know which ones."

Bloomberg's mighty campaign machine offered not a peep about these revelations on his likely opponent when the Voice reported them this spring. But it is a sound bet that they are tucked carefully into the mayor's op research files on Thompson, ready for offering to the rest of the media if necessary this fall. Such spoon feeding is apparently the only way to penetrate the fog at Room 9 in City Hall.

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