Anthony Weiner may be the long-shot candidate trying to make a seemingly impossible return to politics, but Bill Thompson is the true Comeback Kid: the man who nearly prevented current Mayor Michael Bloomberg's third term, losing by only a statistical handful of votes.
And Thompson says everything feels different this time around.
"People didn't believe that Mike Bloomberg could be beat," he said. "It was difficult to be able to speak about issues and have it resonate — this election is different."
Thompson grinned as a woman on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn clasped his hand, exclaiming, "First time I'm shaking the hand of a future mayor!"
Thompson dismissed the notion that his time outside of politics has made him rusty.
"If anything, I think that it helps you improve your perspective," he said, insisting conversations with people on the subway can be just as enlightening as those with policymakers in boardrooms. "New Yorkers have some great ideas."
As he shook hands outside the Brooklyn College subway stop, 25-year-old Latoya Phillip came up and explained that she had gotten off the bus before her stop just to speak with him.
"I had to," she said, "because I saw you at One Police Plaza for Trayvon [Martin] and tried to speak to you."
"It was chaotic," Thompson agreed.
She told him that she had a 4-year-old daughter who she couldn't get into a school, even though there were two within walking distance, and one was even just around the corner.
"It's forcing me to pay for my daughter to go to pre-K, which, as you know, is very expensive," she said.
Thompson expressed sympathy, sharing in her frustration, and explained the problem: There just aren't enough schools. But, he said, the governor has promised more money for pre-kindergarten education, and there is even money the city already has that keeps getting sent back. He promised Phillip that when he is mayor, one of his main goals will be to find more space for schools — and for kids like her daughter.
The interaction with Phillip highlighted what have become his two most compelling platforms to the voting public: education and racial profiling, particularly as the stop-and-frisk debate has ramped up in the wake of the federal court ruling the NYPD's conduct unconstitutional and discriminatory.
At a luncheon for the launch of Caribbean-Americans for Thompson, the crowd responded enthusiastically to the candidate, with everyone in the room rising to their feet when he got up to speak.
The only noticeable lull in his speech was when he insisted, "We want to work with the police."
The previously responsive crowd grew silent until Thompson worked his way to a criticism of stop-and-frisk, and applause picked up again.
But Thompson has repeatedly said his position on stop-and-frisk hasn't changed: In Thompson's New York City, the practice would be reformed, not eliminated.
He views it as an important policing tool "for the safety of all New Yorkers," he said in a separate interview.
"We still have to work hard to keep New York City safe, we can't relax," he said. "We have to make sure we push hard to get guns off the streets and we need the tools to do that."
While many candidates have called for reform of the practice — John Liu is the only one who has called for abolishing it completely — Thompson held a press conference on Tuesday to outline concrete ways he would achieve the daunting, abstract goal of ensuring that all stops are constitutional and non-discriminatory.
This is a key element to Thompson as a candidate: He is pragmatic, practical, almost professorial. He is an idea-man with his feet firmly on the ground. It does not make for an exciting candidate — especially in a race that many have bemoaned as a devolving "circus" — but it may be what got him so close to City Hall four years ago, and it may be what gets him in the door this time.
The closing speaker at the Caribbean luncheon, Dr. Ionie Pierce, made one last push for people to not only go out and vote for Thompson, but to urge others in the community to do so as well.
"I don't want you to say Bill because people might get confused," she advised.
"The education mayor!" someone shouted helpfully from the crowd.
Thompson, clearly pleased with the title, grinned and nodded.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A MAYOR BILL THOMPSON
- Police officers conducting stops will have to write out a ticket that the person stopped will keep, which will explain exactly why the stop occurred.
- Criteria that a stop can be based on will be augmented to be more specific: for example, "furtive movement" is unclear, Thompson said. But being in or near a place known to be frequented or inhabited by drugs dealers would constitute reasonable suspicion.
- Statistics on the number of stops that result in a summons or arrest will be kept and tracked in order to determine whether the stops are effective.
- The expansion of pre-kindergarten would be facilitated by the use of state funding and by finding more spaces for the schools — if not entire buildings, possibly rooms in non-profits.
- Thompson would appoint a new police commissioner, as well as a new schools chancellor — "an educator, for a change," he said.
- Thompson opposes the City Council's anti-profiling bill that some have said would invite spurious lawsuits against the city and the police force. He is against the bill, he said, because the lawsuits would punish individual officers for the wrong-doing of the department at large: officers making unlawful stops are doing so because of wrong-headed departmental policy.
- Thompson would not appeal the federal judge's ruling calling for a federal monitor over the NYPD.
- Thompson would appeal the soda ban, but only because he thinks the focus is wrong. He will, he said, continue much of the good work Bloomberg has done with health initiatives.
Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat