"You need to stop calling Bloomberg a Republican, okay? He isn't, and I think it is insidious that you would call people and say that," says the man on the other end of the phone line. I had just sat down for my first shift at Thompson headquarters to begin making calls, and this was the first number on my list. The script calls Bill Thompson's opponent "Republican Mike Bloomberg." I was stunned. I fumbled for a second, then quipped, "Well, he's running on the Republican ticket, so how else am I supposed to refer to him?" Though I'm young, I'm a bit of an old hat at phone banking—so much so that I ran phone banks for the Obama campaign in New York City that generated three million calls. Earlier this year, I ran several more phone banks for Congressman Scott Murphy in his victory upstate to replace now-Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Phone banking for Thompson, however, is quite a different experience. No one that answered the phones hadn't heard of Bloomberg. It would be hard not to. He's spent $60 million on his campaign so far, with plans to spend another $60 million in these final weeks. He's bought so many advertisements that people are beginning to complain that it's overkill, but when you call voters, you can tell that the commercials' contents are beginning to sink in. The people I was calling were spouting rhetoric found not only in his commercials and on his fliers, but in the articles that have churned out weekly covering the campaign. There are a few constant themes: 1. I'm a diehard Bloomberg supporter. These voters usually comment that Bloomberg has done much for New York, though they rarely ever state anything specifically. Here's the problem: Bloomberg takes credit for everything when it turns out in his favor and refuses to say anything when it doesn't. 2. Bloomberg has improved NYC's education system. For the record, none of the people who I've heard make this claim are school teachers or parents with students in the city school system. Bloomberg continues to throw out figures that seem to support his claims, but by constantly moving the targets and focus, the numbers don't really mean anything. For instance, you can't claim credit for increasing graduation rates when you lowered the requirements. By the way, he can lower the requirements because he controls the school system now, but he almost lost that this year because the Republican mayor can't seem to work with the Democratically controlled State Legislature. Only after adding significant community input did legislators agree to renew the law, and that's because they refused to sit by and watch the reckless practices of the Bloomberg administration. Does no one remember the fiasco that resulted when Bloomberg hired consultants to redo the bus routes? Or last year, when the City Council gave up nearly all of its member item money to reinstate necessary funding to the Department of Education because the "Education Mayor" slashed education funds? 3. Bloomberg is a businessman who has brought huge economic development projects to New York. He's made some big promises, but most of the big ideas Bloomberg touts never get off the ground. Ground Zero is still just a hole, the West Side Stadium project was a dud, and the Atlantic Yards project seems to have stalled. The Bronx has certainly seen some development in the new Bronx Terminal Market and the new Yankee Stadium, but that was because of former Borough President Adolfo Carrion, not Bloomberg. The misconception is largely a result of the mayor's affinity for parachuting into a press conference to take credit for the work of a community. For evidence, just look at how Bloomberg stayed far away from the Columbia University expansion until after local elected officials and community representatives worked things out on their own. Congestion pricing was a novel idea, but it fell apart because, again, the mayor couldn't negotiate with the Democratically controlled State Legislature. 4. I don't like Bloomberg, but I don't know Bill Thompson. Some of these voters are aware of the mayor's "I know better than you" approach to government, and they are tired of staying silent. Most are simply disgusted with his overturning the term-limits law, which he was originally opposed to, in order to run for another term. What they want is a real alternative: someone who has good background, good ideas, and the means to accomplish them. Bill Thompson is their man, but because Bloomberg is buying this election, it's been hard to get a word in edgewise. Thompson is the son of a New York City school teacher and a New York judge. He's poured his heart and soul into this town, serving as the deputy borough president of Brooklyn, president of the Board of Education, and city comptroller. It's not often stated, but these experiences give him an incredible advantage to tackle the biggest problems the city will face this term. He has spent the past eight years as the steward of the city's finances, and will bring incredible expertise to the table to keep NYC's budget in check. From the Board of Education to his audits of the Department of Education as the comptroller, he knows what needs to get done to the city's school system and will include the community in the discussion. His lifelong career in public service has made him the Great Conciliator. He knows how to talk to local elected officials and legislatures to get positive outcomes for both. The man on the phone will hear none of it. "Well, well," he stammers, "he's not a Republican, anyway." "Sir," I remind him, "He's running on the Republican ballot line." The author is the president of the Manhattan Young Democrats.
Columbia Spectator Staff