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In the Trenches Archive

October 28, 2009 @ 2:42 pm

Gotham Gazette: Fact Checking the Campaign

Gotham Gazette’s Courtney Gross takes a look at the mud-slinging and exaggerations in this year’s mayoral election and hunts around for the facts:

AN EDUCATION RECORD

Claim: The Bloomberg campaign says, as school board president, Thompson presided over low performance and waste. Meanwhile under the mayor’s tenure, test scores are up, school violence is down and $350 million has been cut from bureaucracy and put in the classroom.

FACTS: The mayor is definitely right about one thing: Test scores are climbing, according to the Department of Education, and fast. Between 2002 and 2009, the number of fourth grade students who met or exceeded state standards in math went from about 52 percent to 84.9 percent, according to statistics provided by the city’s education department. In 2002, less than 30 percent of eighth graders met state standards in reading. In 2009, 57 percent made the grade. Whether the rise is because of easier tests, the mayor’s changes to the school system or something else entirely remains unclear.

The statistics also improved under Thompson’s tenure as president of the Board of Education — granted far more slowly. From 1999 to 2001, the years the city used the state exam while Thompson was president of the Board of Education, the percentage of fourth graders who met state math standards went from 49.6 to 51.8 percent. For reading, fourth graders who met state standards increased from 32.7 percent to 43.9 percent. According to the city’s Department of Education, the percentage of eighth graders who met reading standards dropped from 1999 to 2001 — from 35.2 percent to 33 percent.

Keep in mind: Thompson did not control the schools as school board chief — he shared that with the mayor, the chancellor and the other board members — making it difficult to attribute student success or failure to his actions. From 1996 to 2001, the years Thompson was president, high school graduation rates went from 48 percent to 51 percent.

During Bloomberg’s tenure, graduation rates have climbed from 51 percent to 66 percent, according to the Department of Education.

MAYORAL CONTROL

Claim: Thompson says his record as president of the Board of Education led to mayoral control.

FACTS: According to at least one colleague at the Board of Education under Thompson’s reign, his actions did help move the city’s school system toward mayoral control. “His efforts were precursors to mayoral control. He played a leading role in governance changes,” Sandra Lerner, a former board member from the Bronx, told Gotham Gazette earlier this year. While in the post, Thompson advocated for mandatory school uniforms and a chancellor’s district for low performing schools. He was thought of as a conciliator. At the same time, in 1996, just before he took over the board presidency, Thompson told the New York Times he opposed giving then Mayor Rudolph Giuliani control over the school system. He has since said he supports mayoral control.

[For the rest of the fact checking, see Courtney Gross’s story at the Gotham Gazette.]

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October 26, 2009 @ 7:38 pm

Bloomberg Town

Via Elizabeth Benjamin and CWA Local 1180:

Bloombergtown from Elizabeth Benjamin on Vimeo.

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October 26, 2009 @ 5:04 pm

The Great Test of Character

Politics is a great test of character: What will a politician say or do to get to wherever s/he wants to go? Where is the bottom line? Is there one?

Nowhere is a politician’s character tested as visibly and severely than in an election campaign. The office holder generally has the time, space, and privacy to bob and weave, tack and trim; the campaign is a desperate, winner-take-all, loser-go-home affair.

My wife and I began as Hillary Clinton supporters. Four more years of Republican misrule would finish the country and neither of us thought Obama could win a general election. (Sometimes The People surprise and delight you.) A reporter asked Hillary “You said you’d take Senator Obama at his word that he’s not…a Muslim. You don’t believe that he’s…,”

“No. No, there is nothing to base that on. As far as I know.”

We looked at one another and decided almost simultaneously that as much as we respected her intelligence and determination, and as crucial as it was to get the Republicans out, for us at least, she had failed the test of character. We didn’t see a bottom line. On reflection, maybe we judged her too harshly. It was a bad moment in a brutal campaign.

But character counts and it counts a lot in politics. Smart is only the ante. Everybody – or almost everybody – is smart enough. If you’ve got character and judgment, you can hire smart. For too long, the country has needed smart leaders with character. We finally have a brilliant president with character. We will know soon enough whether “the American people deserve” him. (Whenever you hear a politician use that phrase, check your wallet.)

And that brings me to Michael Bloomberg and the New York Times. If political campaigns test the character of candidates, they do the same for newspapers, especially those whose owners and editors lay claim to journalistic respectability.

Three items that appeared in Saturday’s New York Times brought the character question into sharp focus, the first two as it applies to the paper itself, and the third for Bloomberg—although for me that question was settled long ago .

First, there was the front page piece on how much Bloomberg had spent to gain and hold office, second, was the Bloomberg editorial endorsement, and then there was Bob Herbert’s column on the recent Bloomberg race-baiting gambit.

The spending piece was headlined Mayor’s Political Quest is Costliest Ever in U.S.

It was the usual thing about how Bloomberg’s political spending contrasted with Thompson’s lack of it. Sandwiched between them and the color item on the vast amounts of Goodfellas Brick Oven Pizza the mayor buys to feed his campaign legions (and, hah, hah, how good a boost the pizza money is for the economy of Staten Island) was the obligatory statement from a well known attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group on Bloomberg’s undermining of municipal democracy. I don’t know what he actually said to the reporter, but what got into print was only the campaign spending.

Well trodden territory, not worth the ink or the time to read it. But the story didn’t matter. It was all about the picture. There it was, the large, front-page photograph of “Just Mike,” the regular guy, standing alongside Colin Powell at the counter of a hot dog joint. The mayor was reaching across the counter, his gloved hand clutching a few dollars. Surrounded by reporters scribbling and cameramen clicking, according to the caption Bloomberg was “treating Colin Powell to a hot dog.” A giant front-page photo op. A good follow-up to front-page piece on Bloomberg The Golfer that the paper ran a couple of months ago.

Maybe before Bloomberg, when she was a bit younger, the old gray lady rolled over for a politician now and then, but if she was ever this obscene, I don’t remember it. What an embarrassment it must be for the real reporters who are still working there.

The sadness one feels watching Colin Powell, a once-trusted public figure, an American icon really, debase himself yet again in the service of yet another nasty and corrupt Republican politician is overshadowed by the contempt we feel for the leadership of a once great newspaper. They accelerate their race to the bottom, seemingly positioning the paper as a kind of New York Post with subtitles, like Murdoch and Zuckerman, and all the other banksters, leveraged buyout artists and real estate scamsters, eager for four more years of Bloomberg’s rule.

Then there is the endorsement. We won’t go over the old, tired ground. But there are one or two statements that deserve special attention.

“With little city money to spend,” Bloomberg we are told, “wants to focus more on helping working-class and middle-class residents with cheap banking or aid in fighting foreclosures or finding jobs and housing. He wants to give a lift to small businesses.”

Readers are urged to take a look at our report, Michael Bloomberg v. The People of New York City: The Spin v. The Facts.

There you’ll find out what Michael Bloomberg has done not only with his money but with our money as well, and what he has been doing to – not for – working-class and middle-class New Yorkers.

As for term limits, here is the editorial:

Mr. Thompson also argues that the mayor unfairly worked to get rid of term limits so that he could run this third time. We supported his efforts to do so because term limits unfairly limit voters’ choices. But the mayor has sent signals that once he is elected, he will set up a charter commission to try to restore the limits. That is a bad call.

The paper was always opposed to term limits, but here is what it said in June 2008.

As good a mayor as Mr. Bloomberg has been, we are wary of changing the rules just to suit the ambition of a particular politician — in this country or any other. Mr. Bloomberg, should he want to continue his public service, would make an excellent prospect for other important offices.

The editorial talked about education, affordable housing, the environment, and all the other good things Bloomberg has done for us or intends to do. Again, we urge you to take a look at Michael Bloomberg v. The People of New York City: The Spin v. The Facts.

The paper’s saving grace is its columnists, among whom Bob Herbert is one of the best. But here is an excerpt from his Saturday column. “It was truly disheartening, dismaying,” he wrote, “to have the mayor turn his back on all that last Sunday during an appearance with Mr. Giuliani before an Orthodox Jewish group in Borough Park, Brooklyn.”

The “all that” to which Herbert referred was that until this campaign, Bloomberg hadn’t played the race game. Of course he hadn’t–at least not the Guiliani race game.

Since taking office, Bloomberg has positioned himself as the non-Giuliani, a uniter, not a divider. He didn’t need an opinion poll to tell him that that this was the best, the only political posture. New Yorkers had had their Rizzo moment—eight years of police killings and broomstick sodomizing. They were tired of it. It was time for “healing.” And the bloodless Bloomberg made a good contrast to the over-the-top Giuliani and the out of uniform police thugs whom he had led in a City Hall race riot against David Dinkins.

But it’s election time and you gotta do what you gotta do, which means ratcheting thing up. So Bloomberg raised the specter of New York becoming another Detroit if the Orthodox Jews were to be so foolish as to fail to turn out for Bloomberg. And his bride for the day, who is readying himself for a Bloomberg-financed state campaign, said “you know exactly what I’m talking about.” Indeed we did — a black mugger lurking behind every shul. Don’t vote for Bloomberg, and you’ll get another David Dinkins, and the blacks will run riot, a shameful piece of race-baiting that’s right up there with Al Shanker’s mass distribution of a crude anti-Semitic pamphlet during the Ocean-Hill Brownsville era, or the Giuliani-led police riot against Dinkins, a man who throughout his career, say what you want about his management skills, showed great integrity and courage in his opposition to Farrakhan and other prominent anti-Semites.

It’s election time, and so it’s Giuliani time again, time for a little race-baiting. Bloomberg tries to keep a low profile on it, delivering the message only in receptive neighborhoods. But it doesn’t surprise anyone who has been on the wrong end of Bloomberg’s eight-year reign. It doesn’t surprise the hundreds of thousands of young black and Latino kids who are illegally stopped and frisked, the kids who have no criminal records and who are illegally arrested for trespassing in their own housing complexes because they aren’t carrying identification papers, it doesn’t surprise the kids and the teachers who are subjected to frequent abusive and unrestrained police behavior in the public schools, or the people who have been arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana (New York City is now the marijuana arrest capital of the country encouraged by a mayor who has said he has smoked and enjoyed it “You bet I did.”) — all these things and more – occur out of sight of the middle class.

Ray Kelly handles that stuff, and the New York Times has given the mayor and Kelly a pass. The paper will have to report it, but they’ll call it a “blemish.” A softball mention now and then allows the paper’s editors to proclaim their virtue and issue the formulaic rejoinder at those journalism seminars: “How would you know about it unless we reported it?” The truth is that the New York Times readers don’t “know” in the sense of understanding as a meaningful political fact what Bloomberg has been up to. Just as they didn’t “know” about routine police brutality until the police raided the Columbia University campus in the 1960s and put the truncheons to the heads of their own kids.

So long as the paper continues to run front page features like the Colin Powell hot dog style story and attaches the “life-long Democrat” label to the mayor’s name to assuage the sensibilities of readers who need assurance that they are still progressives, Bloomberg will sail along. So long as the boomers and their offspring are told that Bloomberg isn’t really one of those nasty Republicans who fly around in private jets to their mansions all over the world, pushing deregulation and privatization, making billions and billions more, feasting off the Wall Street scams, paying for plenty of law and order and light on the civil liberties please, embracing and financing Bush, McCain, Pataki, Bruno and the Boyz, the readers will continue to think of him as a moderate, even liberal fellow, just “Mike” whose watching the cash register and wants to do good things for working-and middle-class folks.

Bloomberg’s election campaign race-baiting is a piece of and entirely consistent with a much larger and more important pattern of behavior. Isn’t it apparent to anyone who has watched how — and for whom — this mayor has governed, and how he has bribed and bullied his way into political power that Michael Bloomberg has no bottom line other than Michael Bloomberg? That someone as astute and principled as Bob Herbert seems to have fallen for the spin is what really dismays and disheartens me.

– Neil Fabricant

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October 26, 2009 @ 11:21 am

An Open Letter to all New Yorkers—and a Call to Help Bill Thompson Help us Take Our City Back

October 26, 2009

Re: Michael Bloomberg v. The People of New York City: The Spin v. The Facts

This letter accompanies our review of Michael Bloomberg’s ruinous eight-years as mayor of New York City. It describes the facts of that record in detail and contrasts them with the spin that the mayor and his publicists have employed to tell a different story.

In preparing this document, we also want to publicly thank Bill Thompson for having the courage and determination to take on New York’s richest, most powerful man and his vast network of wealthy allies. We can only imagine what a difficult and thankless task it must be.

He could have taken advantage of the term limits override and sat out the next four years in the Comptroller’s position. He wouldn’t have had to endure the sleazy attack ads, the exhausting campaign, and all the punishment that comes with such an uphill battle. But without him, we would not have had a choice: Michael Bloomberg, the most arrogant public figure we have suffered in our life time, perhaps with the exception of George Bush, has thumbed his nose at our vote to limit elected officials to two terms. If elected, he will continue to wage what can only be described as a class war on ordinary New Yorkers.

We know that many voters remain indifferent or confused, even overwhelmed by the hundreds of millions of dollars of free and paid political messages aimed at convincing them that the record of financial mismanagement, neighborhood destruction, civil liberties and civil rights abuses, and all the other misguided policies and programs has been a record of achievement.

Many political and civic leaders have been intimidated and even threatened with retribution in the form of campaign contributions and grants withheld, contracts and subsidies not renewed, and all the rest of the tools available to punish those who would speak out. That is why this is an election in which the people must lead the leaders.

Michael Bloomberg’s defeat would send a powerful message that The People are still out there. That message would reverberate throughout the country. It would even be heard in Washington D.C. where the moneyed interests – the interests that Michael Bloomberg embodies and represents – have used their wealth and political power to rob ordinary citizens of their life savings. As this document shows, the mayor is doing precisely that in New York.

Things have already gone very far in that direction. We sense that this is a climactic moment in our history. We’re pleased and honored to do our small part to help Bill Thompson and through him, President Obama take back our city and our country from the hedge fund operators, real estate barons, leveraged buyout artists, investment bankers, and all the rest of the skimmers and scammers who stand with their leader, the would-be oligarch Michael Bloomberg.

Very truly yours,

Neil Fabricant, Founder, Fed Up New Yorkers
Alan Howard, Coordinator, New York City Obama Grassroots for Thompson
Lucy Koteen, President, Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats
Allen Roskoff, President, Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club
Robert Holden, President, Juniper Park Civic Association, Inc.
Nellie Hester Bailey, Director, Harlem Tenants Council
Jessica Shiller, Professor of Education, Lehman College
Judi Francis, President, Park Defense Fund
Ben Kabak, Transit Blogger, Second Avenue Sagas

* Organizational affiliations for identification purposes

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October 26, 2009 @ 10:15 am

A Democracy Tale

Via Najib Aminy:

While most elections are controversial for one reason or another, this year’s 2009 NYC Mayoral election has brought out some of New York’s finest to compete against incumbent Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his run for a third term. This documentary covers the stories of the candidates running, the stories of New Yorkers, the story of this election.

A Democracy Tale from Najib Aminy on Vimeo.

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October 23, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

Bill Thompson’s Term Limits Speech

Via The New York Times:

The following speech was delivered by New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr., the Democratic candidate for mayor, at Hunter College on Thursday night:

Tonight I want to talk to you about what I believe is a key issue in this campaign – Republican Mike Bloomberg’s self-serving desire to do away with the term limits law that New Yorkers voted for not once, but twice. He ignored New Yorkers’ voices and votes in a clear violation of the will of the people.

Elections are an opportunity for voters to differentiate between candidates and their vision for the office that they seek. And this is an issue that I believe clearly defines who my Republican opponent is and who I am.

I grew up in Bedford Stuyvesant – the son of an appellate court judge, and a public school teacher. I grew up in a household where we were taught a deep and abiding respect for the law – and for the freedoms that so many fought so hard to secure for us.

And I learned from my father that no one – regardless of their skin color, their income level, or their neighborhood – is above the law.

I understand very well that at first glance this issue may have appeared to be little more than an ill-advised decision on the part of the Mayor.

But I believe it is much more than that.

I believe New Yorkers have the right to have their votes respected. And I believe that Michael Bloomberg’s complete and utter disregard for the democratic process was a defining moment for all of us.

There are some things that are non-negotiable including the right to vote and the duty of elected officials to uphold that right.

Our country and our city have a rich history of people who have fought for basic freedoms.

These fundamental rights and this battle, transcend race, age, and gender. Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr were never afraid to stand up for what they believed. They continued to fight in the face of great adversity.

In 1848, though they faced major hurdles, and public scorn, women gathered at the Seneca Falls Convention to make their voices heard and to advocate for the right to vote – a right they didn’t receive until 72 years later, in 1920.

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his I have Dream Speech. Thousands marched with him to stand up for equal rights – the right to vote, without being suppressed among them.

Today, as I campaign throughout the five boroughs, those who have immigrated here tell me – I came to the United States so I could be free to vote how I choose.

This is right New Yorkers exercised when they voted for term limits.

We’ve come so far – how can we back down now simply because of one man’s selfish actions?

We cannot and will not give up on what those before us worked so hard to accomplish.

The people of this city went to the polls in November of 1993, and after an extensive debate on the pros and cons of term limits, they voted overwhelmingly to limit the number of terms that a mayor could serve.

And, once again in November of 1996, after much discussion, New Yorkers affirmed their decision – no mayor, regardless of the circumstances, should serve more than two terms.

At the time, a number of us disagreed with the concept of term limits, myself included, but we accepted the will of the electorate.

The wisdom of New York City voters and their unflinching belief in term limits, was reaffirmed, not by a third vote, but during one of the most trying times that we have faced as a nation.

In the aftermath of the greatest tragedy ever to confront the city – September 11, 2001 – former Mayor Rudy Giuliani asked that the New York State legislature grant him a stay as Mayor. Like Mike Bloomberg, he too believed that he – and only he – could steer us through the difficult days ahead.

But once again, New Yorkers cried foul.

The New York Times called Giuliani’s move “a terrible idea.” They said that “neither New York City nor the nation has ever postponed the transfer of power because the public was convinced it could not get along without the current incumbent.”

Republican Rudy Giuliani was wrong for trying to stay in office then, and Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg is wrong for trying to stay in office now.

When Michael Bloomberg ran for Mayor in 2001, he knew in that he could only serve two terms.

He actually said that it would be a “disgrace” for term limits to be overturned without the voters having a say.

In fact, he even went as far as vetoing a bill by the City Council which attempted to extend the tenure of council members.

But, when he realized his future ambitions, to be president or vice president, would not come to pass – he went back on his word. Ironic, since my opponent claims he’s an independent voice – progress, not politics he says. I would argue that what he did is the worst kind of politics there is.

The mayor’s decision was not made overnight.

First, he planned.

It is now known that as early as spring of 2008 he was already discussing his plans to undo term limits so he could run again.

But instead of asking voters for a referendum – instead of being forthright with his intentions, he ignored the voters.

Is that progress, or politics? POLITICS!

Next, he plotted.

When Ron Lauder, the person most responsible for imposing term limits back in 1993, took issue with the Mayor’s actions – Mike Bloomberg cut a deal. In return for his silence, the mayor gave Ron Lauder a seat on the city’s Charter Revision Commission. This ought to insult every voter that went to the polls in support of term limits.

Is that progress, or politics? POLITICS!

And then, he calculated.

He directed community organizations—that depend on city contracts and the mayor’s own private donations—to speak out on behalf of extending term limits.

He organized 70 men and women to arrive early and take up five rows of seats in the City Council’s chambers—crowding out New Yorkers who wished to express their opposition to the term-limits extension.

It was clear that his actions were based solely on self interest – but in the end, it really does not matter why Mayor Bloomberg did it.

Is that progress, or politics? POLITICS!

I am here today to tell him that he was wrong.

And it was wrong that in an attempt to defend the indefensible, Mayor Bloomberg, said that he was the only person equipped to guide us through the economic crisis we are facing.

That was a year ago.

But today, our City is worse off because of Mike Bloomberg. In the last year alone:

• Our unemployment rate increased from 6% to over 10% – that’s the highest it’s been in 16 years. It’s higher than the rest of the state, and higher than the national average.

• 10 million parking tickets were given out;

• Homelessness, which Mike Bloomberg promised to reduce by 2/3 – increased 11%. There are now a record number of homeless families, including over 16,000 children – sleeping in our shelters every night;

• MTA fares and water rates have increased yet again and on October 1, rents went up for 1 million rent stabilized families;

No wonder middle class families are leaving our city because they can’t afford to stay.

So much for Michael Bloomberg’s logic for overruling the will of the people.

It’s clear that our City cannot afford another four years of Mike Bloomberg.

And the truth is, Mike Bloomberg does not deserve another four years in office.

I am running for mayor to redeem the promise that our government made to its people.

I am running for mayor because I believe that under Mike Bloomberg’s watch – not only has our middle class suffered, but he violated their trust on a fundamental issue.

I believe it is time for us to re-evaluate our priorities.

It’s time that we help each and every New Yorker to have the same opportunities that this City allowed my grandparents and parents to have. The same opportunities I had.

For eight years Mike Bloomberg has chosen the wealthy, developers, and Wall Street over working families. And we’ve struggled as a result.

I will do the things that Mike Bloomberg has not done over the last eight years.

I will truly expand access to affordable housing by creating a Mitchell Lama program for the 21st Century.

I will support small businesses and work collaboratively with community and business partners to build a dynamic post-boom economy that focuses on creating living-wage jobs.

I will put the public back in public education and ensure our children are prepared for the future.

I will reduce the impossibly high fares, fines, taxes and fees that hit our middle class the hardest and I will root out waste – starting with agencies like the Department of Education which offers millions in no-bid contracts each year.

And as one of my first acts as mayor I will call for a referendum on term limits – I will do what Michael Bloomberg did not – and I will allow the voters of this city to make their voices heard.

Our Declaration of Independence states: We hold these truths to be self evident, that all are created equal. I believe that to be the case. And I believe that the question in this campaign is simple:

Does the richest man in New York City get to live by one set of rules – while the rest of us live by another?

In 20 years we should be able to look at our children, and our grandchildren, and tell them that we stood up for our right to vote – that we honored those who marched, who protested, who lost their lives defending this most basic right.

I grew up in a home where early on I learned, from my mother and father the honor of public service.

I was taught that you stand tallest when you uphold the law that protects the most vulnerable among us. I promise you, that’s the kind of Mayor I will be.

I will be accountable to you – I will listen to you. And I will never put my own self interest, over the best interests of this city.

It is time for change.

A year to the day that he overruled our will – we will send a clear message: we didn’t support what you did then; we won’t stand for it now.

Eight is enough.

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October 22, 2009 @ 3:29 pm

The President and the Democrat for Mayor

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Via Elizabeth Benjamin and The Daily Politics

“In the end, however, what really matters is this image and the fact that Thompson can say he has the president’s support. The average voter will likely neither know nor care about Obama’s enthusiasm level where this race is concerned.

Thompson is likely to get considerable mileage from this photo. Look for it on palm cards, campaign mailers and perhaps coming soon to a TV screen near you.”

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October 21, 2009 @ 4:14 pm

Not Seeing Progress with Bloomberg, Gay City News Endorses Thompson

The Village Voice reported earlier today that the Staten Island Advance and the Observer (which it called a “snooty weekly”) endorsed Bloomberg for mayor. The Advance considered Thompson “too nice” and the Observer didn’t mention a single thing about considering the issue of Bloomberg overturning term limits in its endorsement.

Fortunately, Gay City News has evaluated Bloomberg’s campaign and has seen politics, not progress. The publication has decided to endorse Bill Thompson for mayor:

Bloomberg’s actions regarding gay marriage are at sharp odds with his words, a disjunction all too common in his LGBT record. Thompson is clearly the superior candidate on our issues.

See the endorsement at Gay City News.

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October 21, 2009 @ 2:28 pm

Obama’s Candidate for Mayor


“Our great city controller, our candidate for mayor, my friend Billy Thompson, is in the house.” — President Barack Obama, during a Democratic fundraiser last night at the Hammerstein Ballroom.

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October 21, 2009 @ 11:05 am

Bloomberg Refuses to Attend HIV/AIDS Event

“I guess Bloomberg thought he doesn’t need support of nonprofits, since he can buy their votes,” said Housing Works President and CEO Charles King, citing the millions of dollars Bloomberg has donated to not-for-profit organizations. “But at Housing Works, we tend to not be afraid of mayors.”

Via Diana Scholl and Housing Works:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused to attend a scheduled candidate forum about HIV/AIDS or even fill out a questionnaire to discuss his positions on HIV/AIDS. But that didn’t mean AIDSVote would sit this election out.

AIDS advocates and Democratic Mayoral candidate New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson came to Bloomberg, rallying outside Bloomberg’s campaign headquarters, in protest of Bloomberg’s refusal to state his positions on an array of pressing AIDS issues before the upcoming November election.

“He ignored our questionnaire! This mayor is not fair!” advocates chanted, holding signs of Bloomberg that read, “AIDS needs answers.” The rally was organized by Housing Works and Women’s HIV Collaborative, in collaboration with AIDSVote. Thompson agreed to participate in the debate and filled out the candidate questionnaire, available at AIDSVote.org.

“The city needs to change. We need to expand rental assistance for people with HIV,” Thompson said in his speech. “There is an alternative.”

In his questionnaire, Thompson said he supports expanding housing opportunities for people living with HIV and reopening the Mayor’s Office of AIDS Policy, which was eliminated under Bloomberg.

Bloomberg’s campaign cited a “scheduling conflict” for why he couldn’t attend tomorrow’s forum, and said the Mayor only fills out candidate questionnaires if there is the possibility he would be endorsed afterwards—something the nonprofit AIDSVote coalition is legally unable to do.

“I guess Bloomberg thought he doesn’t need support of nonprofits, since he can buy their votes,” said Housing Works President and CEO Charles King, citing the millions of dollars Bloomberg has donated to not-for-profit organizations. “But at Housing Works, we tend to not be afraid of mayors.” The Mayor was also invited to attend the rally, but declined that invitation as well.

In fact, many other AIDS groups that were originally scheduled to participate in the AIDSVote forum backed out, citing a perceived conflict of interest.

But Women’s HIV Collaborative Executive Director Pei Desrosiers said this election was too important to ignore.

“HIV is a human rights issue. We can’t afford to have the next mayor continue to underfund AIDS in this city,” she said.

AIDS groups are particularly angry with the Mayor for failing to reform the City’s backward policy of letting people fall seriously ill before they qualify for AIDS housing. Legislation called HASA for All that would provide housing to all homeless New Yorkers living with HIV is before the City Council.

The AIDSVote questionnaire seeks answers from Bloomberg on a number of other issues including helping illegal immigrants access AIDS treatment and care, HIV prevention in prison’s and the city’s reliance on substandard SRO hotels to house homeless New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS.

The overall direction of the city’s approach to AIDS is also at stake in this year’s Mayoral election. Bloomberg put the coordination of many of the City’s AIDS services under the Department of Health, a move that has interfered with the ability of commissioners involved in AIDS policy to work together. Housing Works and other AIDS groups are pushing for the reestablishment of the Mayor’s Office of AIDS Policy, which would re-establish effective coordination, as well as allow the City’s Ryan White Planning Council, which influences the spending of more than $100 million in federal money, to operate more independently of DOH influence.

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