Progressive Stuy Towner is charging ‘Onward’ in bid vs. Blaz

BY DENNIS LYNCH | Mayor Bill De Blasio is running for re-election this November and one man challenging him is Democrat — or Obamacrat, as he describes himself — and Stuyvesant Town resident Josh Thompson.

Thompson, 31, grew up in a low-income household in Newark and “at moments struggled to have a home,” before attending a Catholic boarding school there. His career has orbited around education. First he worked for the Jackie Robinson Foundation in New York. Then, after graduating college, he worked for then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker. He moved on to work for the city of Washington, D.C., and then as director of education in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Josh Thompson. Photo by Dennis Lynch

Josh Thompson. Photo by Dennis Lynch

Most recently he was executive director of the east region of New Leaders, an educational nonprofit. He has lived on and off in the New York area for the last decade or so, but consistently since 2012. In a wide-ranging conversation over breakfast at the Blue Bell Cafe, on Third Ave. in Gramercy, Thompson spoke to The Villager about political identities, Democratic Party entrenchment in the city, and how he would approach some mayoral duties.

Last February, Town & Village reported that Thompson was running to succeed Councilmember Dan Garodnick, who will be term-limited out of office at the end of this year. But by May, that same newspaper reported Thompson had raised his sights to a much loftier goal, mayor.

Thompson’s campaign slogan is “Onward,” which, as one might guess, suggests progressivism. Thompson calls himself “unbelievably progressive.”

“ ‘Progressive’ is this idea that you’re wildly on fire with concepts and, more importantly, on implementation,” Thompson said. He thinks Mayor de Blasio’s progressive fire does not burn consistently enough.

“One of the most frustrating things personally is that now when I say, ‘In New York, I’m a progressive,’ people say, ‘Oh, like our mayor?’ No, absolutely not,” he stated. “Being progressive is not hiring Bill Bratton as your Police commissioner.”

Thompson said that, three years ago, he was a “ride or die” Democrat that supported his party’s candidates, no matter who they were. Now he has tried to step outside the party to carve out a progressive approach on all issues.

“The things I’ve gotten done and right for the community, it’s never been 100 percent Democratic Party values or legislation that was passed,” he said. “It was with Republicans, independents. And a lot of the chiefs of staff and party operatives throughout my service would say, ‘Josh you just met with the House Republicans, you just met this city councilor, you can’t do that.’ And I’d say, ‘I’m confused. You’re telling me I can’t do something I’ve already done, it’s passed.’ So it’s that concept of ‘Onward’ on party politics. I believe, truly, two years ago, I wouldn’t think it was possible. I think we have a time in our country where to actually have that is possible.”

Thompson’s time in Bridgeport was spent balancing a departmental budget with a $13 million deficit. He said he was able to do that without laying off any teachers or closing schools. His approach was to “cut fat,” including the no-show jobs for people connected to politicians. He wants to “reimagine” New York’s school system to make it more efficient, which he believes could solve some of the big issues it faces, including overcrowding.

“How is it possible?” he asked of school overcrowding. “You know what the Department of Education budget is? It’s $28.8 billion and you have overcrowding. You walk into some schools and there’s five dark classrooms. Why? Because they’re under-enrolled and they don’t use that classroom space. What do bureaucrats see? Cost saving — putting everyone in one classroom instead of recruiting an incredible new educator and have that classroom open so you can have 14 children to one educator.”

Thompson’s policies likely won’t make him popular with the United Federation of Teachers union. He railed against D.O.E.’s reassignment centers, or “rubber rooms,” where teachers accused of misconduct are sent for sometimes years at a time to await trial with full pay and no job responsibilities. He claimed de Blasio has put aside $90 million for the rubber rooms, funds he said would be better used to address youth homelessness.

He’s also a big supporter of charter schools and criticized the mayor for “picking a fight” with charters to maintain support with the teachers union.

“I’m a big believer in innovation and choice,” Thompson said. “So, the fact that the mayor picked a fight with charters, specifically Success Academy and Eva Moskowitz just because she can be a political foe — that’s garbage,” he said. “There are 80,000 parents of children in charter schools, and more children are on wait lists to get in. But he completely ignored that because he looked at his 260,000 votes in the primary and knows 100,000 of those were from the teachers union. That’s the universe in which he operates.”

The young challenger also believes he can put together a better administration than de Blasio.

“When you start to become a vessel as mayor, cutting ribbons and doing fundraising, who is back home running the shop?” he asked. “That is what I always tell people — you can judge me as a candidate, but please look at my teams, the teams I’ve had across the country and built around me. Those folk will hold up to anyone’s public-sector capabilities, their private-sector capabilities. I really believe in private partnerships and bringing in those people making seven figures to have a sacrifice of making less in government service. Bloomberg had a great ability to do that. So I believe in my ability to recruit people to run the city with me.”

In short, he doesn’t think de Blasio has a very good administrative team. He recalled speaking to a mayoral representative about the Rivington House debacle.

“The team member said, ‘Hey, it was clear he had no idea what was going on, so there were no kickbacks or anything.’ So your explanation is that he either did something corrupt or he’s incompetent?” Thompson scoffed. “There’s no positive about it, and even with potential indictment, people say it may just be senior advisers. Brother, if you can’t manage your best friends, how are you going to manage a city?

“I think some of the lack of transparency came because he said he wouldn’t partner with certain people — and then you recognize you have to — and he tried to sweep it under the rug,” Thompson said. “It’s putting yourself in a corner. Just speak openly. I’ll take everyone’s money, I’ll spend it better than they can,” he said.

Thompson is particularly interested in “embracing the heck out of private partnerships,” specifically to address homelessness. He wants to reach out to potential philanthropic donors, such as “major family foundations and major corporations,” to contribute to the city to address homelessness. He wants to provide long-term, one-to-two-year housing for homeless individuals and families in the city to alleviate the stress of home insecurity. He also advocates for “healthy foods, coaching courses for how to interview for jobs, job fairs” and other support programs in shelters.

“When you really get to know these communities, which I spent a lot of time around,” he said, “to think that, after seven years of tough luck, bad decisions by family members, that can be turned around in a short-term housing situation is wrong.”

Thompson has raised $153,000 for his campaign, according to his first official campaign finance report filed last week.

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