New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who helps set education policy statewide and explored her own bid for mayor last year, plans to serve as chairwoman of former Comptroller William Thompson's mayoral campaign.
By signing on to Mr. Thompson's campaign, Ms. Tisch bolsters the former comptroller in a few key areas. As one of the state's most prominent voices on education, her imprimatur could help Mr. Thompson among voters concerned about city schools. And through her family's ties to business and the city's social elite—her husband is the chief executive of Loews Corp.—she could help Mr. Thompson raise money and allay fears voiced by many supporters of Mayor Michael Bloomberg about the city's economy under the next administration.
The relationship between Mr. Thompson and Ms. Tisch, both Democrats, stretches back to the late 1990s, when she served on the state Board of Regents and he was the president of the city Board of Education.
Ms. Tisch said she worked with Mr. Thompson at the time, as officials and lawmakers weighed putting the mayor in charge of city schools.
"Bill has a lot of integrity," Ms. Tisch said. "Everything that he always told me—although not what I always wanted to hear—I knew was 100% accurate and truthful."
Ms. Tisch has generally been supportive of Mr. Bloomberg, though the two have sometimes clashed on particular pieces of education policy. She didn't support Mr. Thompson when he challenged Mr. Bloomberg in 2009. She said she supported the work Mr. Bloomberg was doing but often agrees with Mr. Thompson, especially on issues of education and social services.
Ms. Tisch said she didn't see any conflict between her state-level role and involvement in city politics. She consulted with campaign lawyers, she said, who didn't either.
"Whoever wins this election, my role is at the state level," she said, referencing her relationship with Mr. Bloomberg, whom she calls a good friend.
Ms. Tisch, who has served on the board since 1996 and as its chancellor since 2009, has been a firm supporter of the state's push to raise standards, making it tougher for students to graduate and supporting the move to new academic standards known as the Common Core. Yet she has sided with the teachers union on some issues. She supported a state law that shielded teachers' evaluation from widespread public view.
Campaign chairs generally aren't responsible for many day-to-day responsibilities. But they often serve as high-profile ambassadors and fundraisers—both roles Ms. Tisch and the Thompson campaign say she will play.
Mr. Thompson has been hovering around the middle of the pack in the crowded Democratic primary for mayor, according to recent polls. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has been leading the field, while Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Mr. Thompson trail her.
But the mathematical case for Mr. Thompson is strong. He is the only African-American in the race. Black candidates in the city have traditionally won large majorities among black voters, who make up a significant part of the primary electorate.
Representatives for Mr. Thompson's main Democratic rivals either declined to comment or didn't respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Thompson has been positioning himself as a more business-friendly Democrat than some of his competitors. Ms. Tisch could help boost Mr. Thompson's credentials in the city's prominent real estate, business and financial circles, a crucial group for fundraising. Many have already signaled their support for Ms. Quinn and donated to her campaign, but others have expressed anxiety about the field and remain undecided.
"It sends a very clear message that we are fighting for every community in the city, to expand opportunity, to improve education," said Jonathan Prince, Mr. Thompson's campaign manager.
"As people look at this field of candidates, they want someone who is ready to be mayor from the beginning," he said.
Ms. Tisch said Mr. Thompson's experience and steady demeanor were key factors in her decision, indirectly addressing often-voiced criticism that he is too laid-back to run a high-octane city.
"There will be days when people will agree with him and there will be days when people will disagree with him," she said. "But I don't think there will be many days when people will say they were treated harshly, they were treated unfairly, they were treated in anything but an honorable manner."
This is meant to send a message out to the business community and the hedge fundies and Wall Street criminals who are afraid of life post-Bloomberg - don't worry, Thompson has been bought and he can be your guy.
I'm going to deal later with the outrageous news that Tisch is serving as someone's campaign manager in the race.
But for now, just know that if Tisch backs Thompson, you shouldn't - nor should the UFT.