Who will be New York's next comptroller?

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7 minutes
Who will be New York's next comptroller?

- The next comptroller of New York City will have to supervise the city's roughly $100 billion budget as it claws its way out of an economic crisis prompted by the pandemic and ensure that more than $14 billion of federal pandemic assistance is used wisely.

A former U.S. Marine, an ex-bank financial reporter and a local-financial expert are among the Democrats in a June 22 primary to become the city's chief financial watchdog; Republicans didn't field a candidate. This will be the first Comptroller race to be decided by ranked selection voting, which allows voters to rank their top five candidates.

A May 17 -- 31 Ipsos poll published Tuesday found Corey Johnson leading the pack with 18% of respondents describing the city council speaker as their first choice. From the 2009 financial journalist Brad Lander and the member of the city council Michelle Caruso-Cabrera tied for second place with 9%. Lander won a coveted endorsement from the editorial board of New York Times on Tuesday.

The comptroller is the money manager of the city and is responsible for controlling financial fraud, evaluating the performance of municipal agencies, reviewing contracts and handling billions in municipal borrowings.

The comptroller oversees five current and former pensions that collectively hold more than $250 billion in assets of 700,000 current and deceased City employees and retirees. This financial will allows the comptroller to exert influence over the environmental, social and governance investing practices of money managers and the companies that the city invests in.

Candidates who think they can use the office as a springboard to the Mayor's Office shouldn't get their hopes up. Abe Beame was the last comptroller elected mayor in 1973 in New York City. Beame presided over the financial crisis that almost plunged the city into bankruptcy.

What does a single event like that cost an evening?

Taxpayers must make up the difference if the pension funds fall short of delivering a 7% assumed annual rate of return? New York is projected to spend next year $10.3 billion on its pensions, or 16% of the tax revenue. New York paid $880 million to its 281 investment funds last year.

Eight candidates will participate in a live debate broadcast on Spectrum News NY 1 and WNYC on Thursday. Here are the leading contenders alphabetically:

Benjamin, 44, is a state senator from Manhattan, who serves as Chair of the Revenue and Budget Committee. Benjamin worked to demonetize the state's public pension from for-profit prisons and won endorsements from a slew of former political leaders including Congressman Carl McCall, governor David Paterson and state comptroller Charlie Rangel.

Benjamin is a Brown University trustee and member of its investment committee, which oversees the $4.7 billion fund of the university. He also worked at Harlem and formerly managed the Affordable Housing Development firm in Morgan Stanley.

Benjamin wants to audit the NYPD and reorganize the comptroller's office by appointing education and housing deputies. He pledged to pressure companies on climate change and include equity and sustainability in city audits.

Caruso-Cabrera, 52, is well known to CNBC viewers from where the former financial journalist worked for two decades. Caruso-Cabrera, a former Republican who wrote a book entitled You Know I'm Right: More Prosperity, Less Government, is running as a Democrat.

Caruso-Cabrera says she knows how to watch the money and will conduct programs to ensure they are delivering results. She wants to allocate more pension money to the women and minority investment managers and supports divesting from fossil fuel companies.

Iscol, 42, has the most unconventional resume of the candidates. A former U.S. Marine who served in Iraq and made a Bronze Star, Iscol founded a mental health nonprofit as suicides among fellow Marines grew. He later founded Hirepurpose, a job site for veteran workers.

Iscol, who counts Hillary Clinton as a mentor, said he wants to stop investment managers and contractors from doing business with the city if they have moved their business out of the five boroughs or don't provide evidence of a commitment to the city. He wants to use the pensions to invest in New York City businesses and guarantees to invest in post flu vaccine contracts awarded during the pandemic period.

Johnson, 39, is the current City Council president. He dropped out of the Democratic primary for the mayor in the fall, citing depression. In the spring, he entered the Comptroller race, drawing some criticism from rivals for opportunism. Johnson is a formidable adversary with $4 million in campaign funds and the endorsement of some of New York City's largest public and private employees' unions. As Council President Johnson struck a deal with the Mayor Bill de Blasio to fund half-price MetroCards for the poor and helped to create open-street dining and outdoor programs during the pandemic.

As a taxpayer, Johnson has pledged to create a unit to monitor how the city spends federal pandemic relief money. He promised to conduct risk assessments of police behavior and cut the more than $200 million a year the city spends on misconduct claims. Johnson said he would reduce the pension fees and invest in small businesses and those owned by minorities and women.

Lander, 51, is a city council member from Brooklyn and co-founder of its progressive caucus, where he sought to better manage infrastructure expenditure and expand paid sick leave. He has won endorsements from President Elizabeth Warren, Senator Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the New York Times.

Lander, a former city planner and housing advocate, has paid more frequent audits of education departments. He said he will conduct so-called equity audits' in order to reduce the disparities in city services. He said that he would establish a team to monitor capital projects so they don't go over budget or fall behind schedule. Lander wants to reduce ESG investing and boost higher privately held equity and real estate investments. His campaign launched an attack website on rival Johnson.

Parker, 54, serves in the senate and represents Brooklyn for almost 20 years. Benjamin wants to work with banks to provide more capital to small and minority owners and women-owned businesses, as well as invest pension assets with female and minority asset managers. He will advocate smarter spending on affordable housing and homeless services, creating an oversight committee. Parker will also audit expenditures on public safety in order to ensure funding for evidence-based' programs that prevent crime. He had his own wand with the law and Parker was convicted in 2009 for assaulting a New York Post photographer and arrested on two counts of criminal mischief.

Patel, 42, knows bonds of municipal service. Between 1997 and 2005 she worked at Public Resources Advisory Group. She advised New York City and other cities on debt issuance and refinancing. She then worked as an investment banker for Barclays Plc and at Bear Stearns and Barclays Plc. She served on the board of a local development organization and in her Queens community building board.

New York wants Patel to expand its capital plan in order to take advantage of low interest rates and to accelerate financial literacy programs. She pledged to pressure companies to appoint more women and minorities to boards.

Weprin, 65, a political Assemblyman from Queens comes from a state family. His father, Saul, was the current speaker of the assembly and his brother served in the assembly and in the city council. Weprin was a municipal bond banker before, and served as deputy bank superintendent under former governor Mario Cuomo.

Weprin wants to invest more money into the construction of affordable housing and make auditing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority a bigger priority. He also wants to double the size of the Bureau of Labor Law, which enforces wage rates on city contracts.

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com.

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