News & Politics

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

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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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