Candidate Thompson faces test of viability

Dan Janison

Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison, Dan Janison

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10

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Candidate Bill Thompson stood smiling Thursday on East 116th Street in Manhattan, in front of the Bonifacio Cora Texidor Housing for the Elderly. Some of the seniors seated in the warm sun behind him held his white-on-blue campaign signs on their laps.

Seated beside Thompson at a portable press stand was Herman Badillo. Despite clear physical frailty, his voice nearly a whisper against the midday traffic, Badillo, 83, who had been the first Puerto Rican New Yorker to serve in Congress, declared support for the Democratic former comptroller for mayor, highlighting Thompson's work on schools.

This marked a symbolic reminder of faded political battles and alliances. Twenty years ago, Badillo -- who had been a mayoral candidate, deputy mayor and Bronx borough president -- ran a losing bid for comptroller on a GOP "fusion" ticket headed by Rudy Giuliani, who unseated David Dinkins, the city's first African-American mayor.

Now Dinkins backs Thompson too, as does Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem).

Collecting endorsements from once-warring party elders may be nice -- but has only limited potential to give Thompson, 59, what he needs to catch on as a candidate.

Thompson faces a test of whether his strong showing as the Democratic nominee against Mayor Michael Bloomberg four years ago merely reflected his status as the only mainstream alternative -- or if it said something more about his own viability. It may be to his disadvantage that he is no longer in an elected office that would give him a platform for exposure.

So Thompson strives to be visible in various neighborhoods -- he's fresh off a five-borough tour -- as polls still show him in low double digits. "I have yet to see the polls being particularly accurate," he said Thursday. "They have been inaccurate through most of my career. And in many of the elections that I've seen, they've been incredibly inaccurate."

Thompson's strategy for the Democratic primary, and possible runoff, seems to call for coming off as more independent from the status quo than City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, more adult than former Rep. Anthony Weiner, and perhaps more moderate than Comptroller John Liu and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.

In his endorsement Thursday, Badillo said that although Thompson "isn't the loudest voice in the room . . . he knows what we need to do to improve the city."

For his part, Badillo made his own comparisons of past to present. He said: "For many years, as many of you know, the blacks and Latinos struggled [against each other], and that's what cost us so many elections, that we were not able to work together as a team. This year we're all working together as a team. That will make a huge difference not just for blacks and Latinos but for everyone in the city."

A former Democrat-turned-Republican-to-Democrat-again, Badillo -- long a backer of Bloomberg -- said he viewed the departing incumbent as having lost sight of his priority on schools.

"We haven't heard anything from Bloomberg on education in the last few years at all," Badillo said.