A Voice for the Voiceless

March 12, 2018

After decades of fighting for fairness, J. Phillip Thompson (Ph.D. '90, Political Science) returns to NYC as deputy mayor for strategic policy initiatives.

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the appointment of J. Phillip Thompson as deputy mayor for strategic policy initiatives. Photo by Charles Eckert for amNewYork.

J. Phillip Thompson (Ph.D. ’90, Political Science), an urban planner known for his success as a coalition builder, is returning to his New York City roots. In February, Mayor Bill de Blasio named Thompson the new deputy mayor for strategic policy initiatives — a key role that oversees policies such as the city’s Pre-K program and the ThriveNYC mental health initiative.
“My priority is giving priority to the people who do not have much of a voice in society,” Thompson said. “I’ve been spending about a day per week in the city for years, working mainly in Brooklyn and the Bronx, but working from City Hall is a whole different ballgame and it is super exciting.”
Thompson previously served as deputy general manager of the New York City Housing Authority and oversaw the city’s Office of Housing Coordination under then mayor David Dinkins.
“Phillip is one of the foremost experts on how to better serve and lift up low-income neighborhoods, and has spent decades fighting in the trenches for progressive causes,” de Blasio said when announcing the appointment. “He will make sure our agencies are working together to make New York City the fairest big city in the nation.”
Thompson is currently a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he also oversees the Housing, Community and Economic Development group. Before joining MIT, Thompson taught at Columbia University and Barnard College.
At The Graduate Center, Thompson studied under Distinguished Professor John Mollenkopf, who also directs the Center for Urban Research. “His appointment is an absolutely great move,” Mollenkopf said. “He has been very creative in working with trade unions and community organizations about improving the energy efficiency in central city neighborhood housing, among other things.” 
Thompson began working for Dinkins’ administration while he was completing his dissertation, Mollenkopf noted. Thompson’s dissertation was turned into a landmark book, Double Trouble: Black Mayors, Black Communities, and the Call for a Deep Democracy, published by Oxford University Press in 2005.
“My Graduate Center experience changed my life fundamentally,” Thompson said. “Many of the Ph.D. students I interacted with remain lifelong friends. We students were on kind of an unspoken crusade: we all had working-class backgrounds, and we wanted to inject our lived experience to challenge many traditional theories and doctrines. It was fun.”