By Sabina Mollot
Back in February, Town & Village interviewed the first person to officially become a candidate for the City Council seat currently occupied by a term-limited Dan Garodnick. That individual was Joshua Thompson, a resident of Stuyvesant Town who previously worked for then-mayor Cory Booker in Newark, New Jersey as well as for the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut. His platform, he admitted, was still in the works, but he considered education and affordable housing priorities. Then, in May, as T&V first reported, Thompson dropped out of the race, because he was running for mayor instead.
On a recent afternoon, Thompson met with a reporter to discuss his campaign and his surprising decision to run against an incumbent mayor (albeit an embattled one), as an unknown in the world of New York politics.
Asked if running for mayor was the plan from the beginning, Thompson said no. He’d been interested in running for the Council but later felt he wanted to help more under-served communities than those in the 4th District (which runs in a crooked, gerrymandered way from Stuyvesant Town to 96th Street along the East Side of Manhattan).
While he acknowledged the area has its problems, it’s also, said Thompson, “incredibly well-heeled. If other neighborhoods had all the resources we had, boys and girls clubs and other organizations that operate on a shoestring (could benefit).” He added that at a fundraiser for his brief Council run held on the Upper East Side, he openly admitted that he wanted wealth from that community to serve the underserved elsewhere. “Some people would say, ‘How dare you?’” he said.
When asked if his run was aimed at building his profile in the city so he could run for something more comparatively attainable, the 30-year-old candidate again said no. Nor, he said, is it about the mayor’s ongoing problems from inquiries into his fundraising to his allowing a Lower East Side nursing home to be flipped to a developer.
“It has nothing to do with his embattlement,” insisted Thompson.
At this point, Thompson’s become accustomed to being told he’s nuts; that he doesn’t have a chance. However, he added, this is often by individuals who are “working for other people.” He didn’t elaborate on who those people were, but said he feels such statements are aimed not only at feeling him out but actively convincing him to drop out. So far though, they obviously haven’t worked, with Thompson reasoning their efforts mean, “You’re saying I do have a chance. We’re obviously onto something.”
As for his thoughts on the mayor, Thompson feels de Blasio’s the one who’s been over-confident.
“When he filed papers (to run), he thought he was the solution to this city, a progressive candidate,” said Thompson. But, he added, “His only record of note was speeches and things he did as public advocate. I stand by my service.”
Specifically, Thompson was speaking about his work at New Leaders, a nonprofit promoting leadership in education, where he currently works, and his previous job as director of education in Bridgeport from 2012-2014.
“While the mayor is raising money to get his own job back I’ve raised over $9 million for children (at New Leaders),” Thompson said. “If you go to Bridgeport, you’ll see a balanced budget and every student has a tablet in their hand.”
He further blasted the mayor for his record handling horse carriage drivers and charter schools.
“His administration went after a 60-person union (representing) the horse carriages and couldn’t break it,” Thompson said. “A 60-person union. Then he went after Eva Moskowitz and spat in the face of thousands of caretakers because Eva may run against him as mayor.”
Success Academy charter czar Moskowitz is incidentally Garodnick’s predecessor in the Council.
Thompson’s wife Julia also runs a Brooklyn charter school and Thompson is staunchly pro-charter. Or, as he prefers to put it, pro-choice.
“I’m pro-choice across the board,” he said. “I support a woman’s right to choose, but when it comes to black and brown kids, they don’t have a choice (for schools).”
He is also a supporter of school vouchers and pro-co-locating schools. “If there’s space and it’s not being used, co-locate it.”
At this point, according to online campaign filing data, Thompson’s only raised $28,000 compared with the nearly $2,500,000 raked in by Bill de Blasio. Thompson said he didn’t want to discuss the numbers beyond claiming he has about $200,000 in “commitments.” Meanwhile, the campaign has spent $50,000, leaving it in debt. Contributors so far, the candidate said, include real estate and finance professionals, philanthropists and former union heads.
As for that confidence of his, Thompson said it was due to having gotten lot of encouragement right from the start after sending a vague email blast about his intention of running for office. The email, which was sent to 500 people, got 4,000 responses from people around the city, he said. “I received emails from people in the South Bronx, and from Brownsville who knew about my community record.”
For the past few months, Thompson’s been holding what he calls “community conversations,” usually at apartments or churches to hear the concerns of residents in any given area, and getting decent turnouts. He’s also done outreach by heading to neighborhoods based on negative headlines. He recently chatted up residents of a housing project in the Bronx after reading about a major gang bust there.
Another issue of importance to him is homelessness. If elected, he pledged to yank the money currently used to fund the city’s “rubber room” for teachers and put it into helping the homeless. Thompson then blasted the city’s current effort to improve shelters, arguing, “$13 million is being spent to get shelters up to code. Code is the lowest denominator. We have to fight to ensure children are not homeless. It’s going to take more than $13 million.”
Thompson said he is also concerned about increasing voter turnout.
On affordable housing, Thompson said he’s on the same page as de Blasio.
“I agree with the rhetoric. I’m not sure I agree with the implementation,” he said. He blasted the preservation deal at Stuyvesant Town, which was hailed last fall as “the mother of all preservation deals” by the mayor.
“It’s not affordable,” said Thompson. “$3,200 for a one-bedroom. How is that affordable?” He added that any time he hears that a neighbor is having a child, “The next question is, ‘When are you moving to Jersey?’ We have to get out of this mentality.”
One idea he has is to build a “teacher village,” similar to a development in Newark that offers housing marketed to teachers and onsite charters.
“You’re encountering the mothers at the grocery store. You’re seeing each other on a Saturday. It gets to feel like you’re in this together.”
Thompson also responded to some snark online he’d received — not just for his mayoral ambition, but for having written in an online bio that he was deputy mayor for education in Bridgeport, when a political blog pointed out such a title didn’t even exist. On this, Thompson explained the position he’d gotten was a new one and so he’d simply come up with a title the city administration was fine with, and announced it via email, only to later have the City Council president tell him to change it since no one had been called the deputy mayor previously. “So I changed it.”
Asked if he was concerned if Comptroller Scott Stringer would officially declare himself a candidate, Thompson shrugged.
“If you believe you can lead the city, don’t wait for a poll to say you can do it,” said Thompson. “It’s not a spectator sport.”
Thompson and Julia have lived in Stuyvesant Town since 2014 and have a shih tzu-poodle mix named Cody.
Bill Finch, who was Bridgeport’s mayor when Thompson worked for the administration, declined to comment for this article. A spokesperson for Cory Booker didn’t return a request for comment.