The City Hall gathering Monday at which Comptroller William Thompson endorsed Fernando Ferrer for mayor was “the press conference we’ve been looking for,” according to Bronx Democratic chair Jose Rivera—a strong message to those wayward Dems who’ve backed Bloomberg or Rudy in the past three elections. “We will be calling on Democrats to come home,” Rivera said. “Now or after the runoff.”
Runoff?! Woops! Rivera corrected himself: “No runoff!” Chuckles filtered through the crowd. It was not the only awkward moment in a major event for the Ferrer campaign as their push for a primary victory on September 13 hits high gear.
Everything went smoothly when Thompson took the mic to recount his long friendship with Ferrer and hail the former Bronx Beep’s “integrity, leadership and vision.” Then he and Ferrer embraced, Billy giving Freddy a gentle, goodfellas-quality slap on the cheek. “We share the same Democratic values and vision of this city,” Ferrer said of his bond with the comptroller. “The same values that say working families should not find obstacles but should find opportunity and hope.”
But things got stickier when Ferrer got to specifics. He mentioned the need for more affordable housing, a touchy spot because it’s one of the policy areas where Thompson has worked hand-in-hand with the mayor. And while Ferrer noted that school test scores “happened to rise in an election year,” Thompson later said he had no plans to audit those scores.
At one point, Thompson was asked if a Ferrer victory in November would “play havoc” with his own hopes for becoming mayor—perhaps as early as 2009 if the Dems fail to unseat Mayor Bloomberg this year. “Oh, I don’t know about playing havoc,” the comptroller replied. “What it would mean is I put that on hold for four years.”
Next, someone asked Thompson what Bloomberg had done wrong that justified endorsing his top rival. “I’m not here to talk about what the mayor is or isn’t doing,” the comptroller said. Then, Thomspon was asked if he thinks the city is going in the right direction or the wrong direction. “I think it’s not a question of right direction,” he said, adding, “I think I’ve been honest about the things the mayor has done well,” as well as “areas of disagreement.” Asked for three specific things that Ferrer would do that Bloomberg wouldn’t, Thompson replied, “You’d have to ask Freddy the question.” The reason for endorsing Ferrer, Thompson said, had much to do with the fact that “I’ve known him for 20 years.”
Ferrer doesn’t necessarily need Thompson to attack Bloomberg; what Monday’s announcement brings to Ferrer’s table is a very high profile Democrat with major pull in Brooklyn and black circles. The endorsement is what matters, not the fact that at the press conference that followed, Thompson punted more often than the 1981 Chicago Bears when it came to answering why Freddy is better than Mike.
But even if Thompson doesn’t have to make that case, it seems like someday, somebody’s going to have to—if the Democrats hope to beat Bloomberg and his umpteen million dollars in ads and glossy mailings. History indicates that New Yorkers are reluctant to get rid of incumbent mayors in a general election: Prior to David Dinkins, the last full-term mayor to lose in a general vote was John Purroy Mitchel in 1917. That was 88 years ago, or even longer than Bill Thompson has known Freddy Ferrer.