Comptroller William Thompson, one of the most vocal critics of Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to extend term limits, addressed the prospect extensively on Tuesday morning during a speech and Q&A at a Crain’s Business Breakfast Forum at the Hilton in Midtown.
Greg David, editorial director of Crain’s, asked why Thompson, a mayoral candidate for 2009, seems to depart from the conventional wisdom among the business community that “Bloomberg is indispensable to the future of New York.”
“No one person is indispensable, no matter how good a job that person has done,” replied Thompson. He said ordinary New Yorkers were “the ones who got us through the tough times. They dug deeper in their pockets. They did more with less.”
Then Thompson dropped the B-bomb: “We change presidents,” he said. “The same argument is, ‘We’re in a fiscal crisis, and we’re at war around the world.’ We should keep George Bush in office then, based on that rationale.”
Runnin’ Scared asked Thompson why he chose that analogy.
“The reason and the rationale that the mayor has put forward, and that some others have put forward, in keeping him in office is because we’re going through very difficult times,” he said. “The same argument was made by Rudy Giuliani after September 11. The same argument is being put forth right now. This country is going through tough times. We’re in Iraq, Afghanistan, and our financial system at times may be viewed as being almost on the verge of collapse, at least it was in the last few weeks. That same rationale would be one to keep George Bush in place. Suspend the constitution, or go back, and have the members of Congress change the Constitution to keep the president in office. What’s the difference?”
Erin Einhorn, City Hall reporter for the Daily News, asked Thompson to handicap the reelection prospects for incumbents, such as City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who support the Mayor’s proposed legislation — fast-tracked for a vote on Thursday — to change the term-limits law.
“I would say those who vote yes on this bill before the City Council place their futures at risk,” Thompson said. He referred to a recent Quinnipiac poll that shows 89 percent of voters want a referendum to decide the issue.
If that sounds ominous, scarier still was Thompson’s assertion that opponents of the term limits extension, and those undecided, tell him they are “being pressured” by both the Mayor and the Speaker’s offices with “arm-twisting” and “threats” in advance of the vote.
“Everything from projects that are there that might not occur, to people being talked about what are they interested in, and some of the projects they’re interested in,” he said. “I just think it’s been on a few different levels that we’ve seen both threats as well as promises that have been extended to members of the Council.”
Thompson sounded undaunted about the prospect of running against Bloomberg, repeatedly stating his plan to run, while evading Einhorn’s question about whether he would at the same time commit to not running for Comptroller again, should that become possible.
“I’m running for Mayor,” he said. “That’s what I’m doing next year. I’m running to be Mayor of the City of New York.”
Nonetheless, in his current capacity as Comptroller, Thompson gave his prescription for rejuvenating confidence in the local economy: fiscal discipline, a commitment to economic development, and diversification of the economy and improving the climate for small businesses. As a start, he urged the Mayor to launch comprehensive agency audits to identify wasteful spending in government.