And They’re Off

Posted: December 8, 2004 at 5:10pm

After weeks of deliberations, and at times tortured consultations with supporters, City Comptroller Bill Thompson has decided against running for mayor in 2005, New York Magazine has learned.

A senior Thompson adviser says that the comptroller will publicly reveal his decision within days, probably on Monday, December 13. “He will announce that he’s running for reelection as comptroller,” the adviser says.

Thompson’s decision, while widely predicted, has been eagerly awaited in recent weeks by New York politicos and advisers to rival mayoral contenders, because it clarifies the field and allows the remaining candidates to more clearly assess the strategic challenges that lie between them and City Hall. The decision could help former Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer in his quest to assemble a black-Latino coalition that will propel him to the nomination and could complicate life for City Council Speaker Gifford Miller and Congressman Anthony Weiner, both of whom are white and had hoped for the presence of two serious minority candidates.

Thompson’s decision came after weeks of pressure from his top supporters, who argued that his biography and résumé made him the Democrat with the best shot at unseating Michael Bloomberg. The son of a powerful Brooklyn judge, Thompson, who is African-American, combines a wealth of outer-borough political connections with experience as a Wall Street banker, a Board of Education president, and the No. 3 citywide elected official.

Thompson advisers say he was conflicted about the choice. On the one hand, he leaned against running because he would have to give up his post as comptroller, a job that his confidants say he finds fulfilling. Thompson was also wary of a crowded, racially divisive primary that would constitute a rerun of 2001, when Ferrer supporters, enraged by Mark Green’s tactics in the primary, withheld support from Green in the runoff, sinking his candidacy. Then he’d still have to face Bloomberg, whose popularity has been increasing of late.

On the other hand, advisers said, Thompson was well aware that Bloomberg’s rebound notwithstanding, the mayor’s persistently low approval ratings meant a Democratic challenger could indeed defeat the incumbent. By not running, Thompson could allow another Dem to sneak into City Hall, meaning that the comptroller would not have another shot at running for mayor until 2013—several lifetimes in municipal politics. “Is there a chance another Dem wins?” the adviser asked. “That’s there.”

In the end, advisers said, Thompson decided not to run after doing a “gut check” and concluding that he was better off keeping his current gig and sparing the Democratic Party another nasty primary battle. What’s more, another term as comptroller will raise Thompson’s profile and fatten his war chest for 2009, when the billionaire incumbent returns to private life. “This is a very personal decision,” the adviser said. “And in the end, he felt it wasn’t his time.”

And They’re Off