Barrett: Bill Thompson Responds To Our Allegations, Sort Of


A few hours after I posted yesterday’s item about Bill Thompson’s mysterious ties to the contractor implicated in the Deutsche Bank fire, I got an e-mail protesting the story from Ed Castell, the campaign manager for Thompson’s mayoral run.

My story revealed that the $180 million museum/condo project of Elsie McCabe, Bill Thompson’s wife, is being built by Bovis Lend Lease, the construction firm whose site safety manager is under indictment for criminally negligent homicide in the death of two firefighters (District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said he could have indicted the company as well, but didn’t because it could bankrupt the firm and affect thousands of jobs). McCabe joined her condo partner in signing a contract with Bovis in October 2008, though it was widely reported at the time that Morgenthau was considering indicting the company on murder charges. The Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) was so outraged by the mishandling of the Deutsche Bank deconstruction that its president cited it repeatedly in a September 16 endorsement of Thompson.

One of the ancillary points I made was that Thompson has been virtually silent about the fire, commenting only once about it in all the campaign clips, and saying only a single sentence about it when pressed by reporters at the UFA endorsement press conference. Castell’s e-mail to me was contesting this point, and he later sent me a memo that Castell said was “released to reporters” on September 17, the day after the press conference, detailing Thompson’s position about the city’s Deutsch Bank failures.

The memo is, as Castell advertised, a three-page denunciation “of a widespread failure of leadership and accountability” by the Bloomberg administration, and does name Bovis as a prime culprit.

While the memo proves Thompson wasn’t silent about Bovis or the fire, it compounds Thompson’s problems about both. It points out that Morgenthau concluded that Bovis prepared “fraudulent” daily checklists that failed to record the breach in the standpipe that contributed to the deaths of the firefighters, as well as “numerous fires and accidents that occurred prior to the August 2007 fire. It adds that Bovis removed a site superintendent who insisted that the deadly standpipe be pressure-tested. It blasted the Bloomberg administration for supporting four increases in the Bovis contract and deplores Bloomberg’s statements in support of the company “even after the fire.” It notes that Bovis is currently under investigation for overbilling the city and that one of its key projects, Citi Field, “is already falling apart after less than a season.”

Doesn’t all that make it even odder that McCabe’s Museum for African Art just signed up such a reprehensible contractor to build her 5th Avenue extravaganza? Thompson and McCabe live just a few blocks from the museum site; is it possible that Thompson never noticed the Bovis signs all over the site, including a large one that claims the company is “Incident and Injury Free?” Why is he blasting Bloomberg for supporting Bovis “even after the fire” when his wife hired them “even after the fire?”

The memo tracks the cover story I wrote about the fire in July, borrowing paragraphs of language directly from it and citing it a few times. Yet, bizarrely, the campaign never sent it to me. I pressed Thompson’s top aides for days after my story appeared for comment, and was told that Thompson couldn’t comment because, as comptroller, he might have to rule on the claims against the city filed by the families of the dead firefighters, Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino. Obviously, that rationale disappeared the day after the UFA endorsed him. Indeed, the memo is strange because it wasn’t distributed until the day AFTER the endorsement, though it was the union’s key issue at the press conference. I got the press release announcing the endorsement, just not the memo. In fact, I gave Castell and two other top Thompson aides 24 hours notice of the blog I posted on Friday, writing them a long email telling them exactly what I was going to write, including a passage about “Bill’s silence” about the fire, and they didn’t respond.

The Voice asked Anne Fenton, the campaign spokeswoman, why it was a memo rather than a press release and she said that when something “wasn’t breaking news or an announcement, we sent them in a memo format.” I have no idea why Thompson’s campaign didn’t see a detailed denunciation of Bloomberg’s culpability in the death of two firefighters as breaking news, but it’s certainly conceivable that reporters ignored it because Thompson downplayed it himself. We called several reporters named on the distribution list Fenton sent us and many didn’t remember it at all; one checked his email and found it, unopened, in his in-box.

The existence of this missed memo (no one reported a word about it) does prove that Thompson didn’t take a pass on Bovis. But it also raises stupefying questions about the disconnect between his public pronouncements and what his wife is doing at a project that he is so personally involved with that he pressed public officials to dump money into it.

Research assistance: Steve P. Ercolani, Aaron Howell, L.C.E Jordan, Kate Rose, Amanda Sakuma, Grace Smith