Bill Thompson: New Yorkers Ignored for 20 Years

Bill Thompson

Mayoral hopeful Bill Thompson takes questions during a Q&A with reporters and editors from the ethnic and community media. (Photo by Voices of NY)

Charging that the majority of New Yorkers feel ignored, former City Comptroller William Thompson promised that if elected mayor, he will build a diverse administration, increase funding for the Office of Immigrant Affairs and nearly triple the money the city spends in ads in community and ethnic publications.

“Probably 75 percent or 70 percent of this city feels ignored by City Hall,” Thompson said at a mayoral candidates Q&A session with reporters and editors from New York’s community and ethnic media. “People have felt ignored for 20 years – Mike Bloomberg for 12 and Rudy Giuliani for 8 years. So our voices haven’t been heard in that long period of time.”

The June 6 event kicked off a month-long Q&A series with the leading New York mayoral candidates, sponsored by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. The next date in the series is Thursday, June 13, when Democrat Bill de Blasio followed by Republican Joe Lhota will answer questions from reporters.

Thompson, who is the only African American in a crowded Democratic mayoral field and narrowly lost to Bloomberg in the 2009 general elections, said if elected he would hire people for the city’s top jobs that are representative of the city’s diversity.

New Yorkers will be able to “look at a City Hall or look at agencies and see commissioners and deputy commissioners and assistant commissioners, who look like them, and right now that doesn’t exist in this administration.

“This is the least diverse administration,” he continued, “I’m not going to say ever, but it is a less diverse administration than the Giuliani administration, at least it was when I made the point in 2009 and 2010.”

Thompson said New Yorkers not only feel ignored, but “no one is listening to them.” For example, he said, the city’s growing Muslim community has been pushing for public schools to close on “one or two” holidays “or suspending alternate side” of the street parking but “no one listens, there is no response.”

Bloomberg declined to authorize public schools to close for the two main Muslim holidays – Eid Ul-Fitr and Eid Ul-Adha – even after the City Council in 2009 overwhelmingly passed a resolution in support of the measure, but alternate side of the street parking for both holidays has been suspended citywide since 1992.

Asked if he would increase the budget of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, which is a mere $560,000, Thompson nearly laughed.

“One thing I try not to do is to make… dollar commitments these days, but it’s almost an easy answer to say yes, because the budget is so small and so low.”

Reporters and editors from (Photo Voices of NY)

Reporters representing the more than 270 community and ethnic publications in the city attended the Q&A. (Photo by Voices of NY)

Addressing an important concern for publishers of the more than 270 ethnic and community publications in the city, Thompson, who served two terms as city comptroller, committed to substantially increasing the advertisement money the city spends in non-mainstream media outlets.

According to a March report by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media, New York City spends $18 million each year in ads to promote messages on matters like education, health and transportation. Of that, only about 18 percent, or nearly $3.2 million, is earmarked for community and ethnic publications, which have a combined circulation of 4.5 million.

“At the very least, we should start to look at an appropriate number, 18 percent is way too low,” said Thompson. “We should at the very least be looking at somewhere in excess of 50 percent. I mean, that’s a real number and that starts to spread things out across the community.”

During the hour-long session, Thompson fielded questions in a variety of topics from stop-and-frisk (“a useful policing tool that has been misused and abused”) to his commitment to signing contracts with city workers (“the first thing is finding the money” but “city workers deserve raises”) to whether he supports building a soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (“I’m not against the stadium” but “we don’t need to race to get it done.”)

On the topic of education, Thompson, a former president of the city’s Board of Education, said test results should not be the sole criteria to accept students at specialized schools. He said the city should work at turning poor performing schools around instead of closing them and that the excessive attention to charter schools, which serve about 56,000 students, is “a distraction” from the more than 1 million kids at regular public schools.

On a lighter note, professor Sarah Bartlett, director of the Urban Reporting program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, said that when she and moderator Garry Pierre-Pierre, director of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media, were conceiving the series, they deliberately decided to stay away from structuring it as a mayoral forum.

“After reading the endless stories about the 50 or so [forums] that have already taken place, I’m so happy we made that decision,” Bartlett said to chuckles from the audience.

Thompson promised to bring diversity to City Hall and spread the money the city spends in media ads beyond a few mainstream publications. (Photo Voices of NY)

Thompson agreed. “Let me first thank you all for doing this format,” he said, “for not doing another mayoral forum where we get to answer a question for 90 seconds, or 60 seconds or 30 seconds. And rather have the opportunity to have a bit more of a conversation.”

The Q&A series continues this week, followed on June 20 by separate sessions with Adolfo Carrión and John Liu and June 24 with Christine Quinn and John Catsimatidis. Anthony Weiner, who recently entered the race for mayor, has not confirmed his attendance.  Reporters from the ethnic and community media interested in participating, can RSVP here.

Complete Q&A session:


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