election 2009

New York

On Thompson's Board of Ed days, both campaigns distort truth

In an election focused on the city's schools, Comptroller Bill Thompson years as president of the Board of Education have become a misunderstood talking point. As the mayoral race heats up, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Comptroller Bill Thompson are butting heads over Thompson's education record. Thompson describes himself as a prescient reformer who, as president of the Board of Education, a position he held from 1996 to 2001, oversaw a higher test score increase than Bloomberg has as mayor. In its first televised attack ad, which aired today, Bloomberg's campaign calls Thompson a do-nothing bureaucrat who allowed a broken system to remain as it was. "When Thompson was president of the Board of Education, he ran the old system," the ad says. "Dropout rates increased. Kids promoted even if they didn't learn." The truth is far away from both of these poles. Interviews with people who worked with Thompson at the time and a review of newspaper articles from the period suggest that Thompson's tenure at the Board of Education was neither innovative nor obstructive. It is better summarized by a story about a creamsicle. In the 1990s, when Thompson was president of the board, a colleague with young children offered him a seat in his office and Thompson, accepting, unwittingly rested his arm in melted popsicle goo. "I managed to get kids' melted creamsicle popsicle crap all over his suit and he walked around like that all day," said the colleague, who asked to remain anonymous because he still works in education. "He never got upset or went bonkers." Instead, Thompson laughed off the sticky predicament, teased his co-worker, and in his typical unflappable manner, went back to work.