By COLlive reporter
Photos by Levi Percia, Itzik Roytman
One the anniversary of the Crown Heights Riots, an African American candidate for Mayor of New York City came to visit the home of a Chassidic Jewish activist to thank him for his friendship.
Bill Thompson was seated near Chanina Sperlin on Tuesday night when he recalled the violent days in 1991 when hate and fear was dominant on the streets of the neighborhood.
“I was in the South of France, on my first real vacation, when I got the news about the riots,” said Thompson who was at the time the youngest Deputy of Brooklyn Borough President.
“I got tons of messages at the hotel that Crown Heights is burning. They said, ‘There are riots, you gotta get back here.’ I got on the plane and came back,” he said about his work to fix the racial divide that had paralyzed Brooklyn.
“That year, rabbis marched in the Labor Day Parade (down Eastern Parkway), as part of working to bring the communities together,” Thompson recalled. “They wore bullet-proof vests, but they marched.”
Speaking to friends and supporters, the former New York City Comptroller and candidate to become the Democratic Nominee for Mayor said the riots is not something that can happen again.
“Look what it took to bring the community together back then,” he pointed out. “Now, it’s a very different community. People have changed. They realized our lives are intertwined and we need to communicate and work together.”
The attendees at the casual get-together at the home of Sperlin, intergovernmental liaison for the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, were perhaps a sign of that change and potential for continued cooperation.
“The election is in 3 weeks,” Thompson mentioned. “When people ask me how come I will win, I say: Because of the African American, Hispanic and Orthodox Jewish communities. If people come out and vote, I’m in good shape.”
The meet-and-greet was used as an opportunity for participants to thank Thompson for his years of service to the area he was born and raised in.
“Years ago, we had an issue with the Board of Education who made new rules for the school buses, leaving children who live far from the school to walk 20 minutes to school and back,” related Rabbi Jacob Goldstein, who chairs Community Board 9.
“People asked me, ‘You know Thompson. Go speak to him about this.’ So I went and I explained it to him, how it’s so difficult for many of the parents.”
“A couple of weeks later the school called to thank and notify me that the Board of Ed changed the rules. I told them: ‘Thompson took care of the problem. You owe a debt of gratitude to him.'”
Thompson hopes locals remember that on Primary and Election days. For his part, he is making sure Orthodox Jewish voters are keeping him in mind, holding a rally on 13th Avenue in Boro Park on Thursday.