There's an aerosol, a former colleague once joked, that certain politicians unwittingly spray on themselves each morning. It acts as a shield against press coverage, making anything they do or say instantly unmemorable to reporters. She called it anti-publicity spray, and New York City mayoral candidate Bill Thompson has been using it for years.
OK, maybe it isn't real, but it may as well be where Thompson is concerned. The two-time mayoral candidate, former head of the New York City Board of Education and former comptroller has never made good copy, nor has he been a headline chaser. Competent public servant? Yes. Media starlet? Not on your life.
It's eye-opening, then, in the final weeks of a crowded Democratic primary, to see the panicked lengths to which Thompson is going to attract media attention. He needs something to break out in a race in which, true to form, he has been largely invisible. But it's disappointing to see how he's doing it.
The best thing about Thompson has always been his level-headedness. In a city filled with rhetorical bomb throwers, Thompson has been a cut above. He's temperamentally a moderate who thinks twice before speaking. But Thompson decided to launch a calculated torrent of racially and religiously inflammatory rhetoric against Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
In one recent tirade, he slammed Kelly's NYPD for targeting "members of mosques and community groups for no reason but their religion." Was Thompson traveling when the 16 Islamist terrorist plots since 9/11 were disrupted?
Now he's equating the NYPD's controversial but highly successful stop-and-frisk policy with the shooting of Trayvon Martin. "Here in New York City, we have institutionalized Mr. Zimmerman's suspicion with a policy," he thundered at Abundant Life Church in Brooklyn on Sunday.
One would expect that from former Black Panther City Councilman Charles Barron, not the Tufts educated Thompson. It's beneath him.
But guess what? Thompson's new fighting posture is garnering him headlines. It's magically counteracting the anti-publicity spray. Votes almost certainly will follow.
It seems silly to say to someone who's been around so long, but welcome to New York City politics 2013, Mr. Thompson.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.