John Burnett Lashes Out at Scott Stringer in Comptroller Debate

By Kristen Meriwether
Kristen Meriwether
Kristen Meriwether
October 8, 2013 Updated: October 17, 2013

NEW YORK—Without a name-brand Republican on the ticket, the televised debate between the candidates for the New York City comptroller’s office on Oct. 8 was expected to be nothing more than a formality.

But John Burnett, the Republican candidate who entered the race in late June, delivered some memorable moments while taking on Democrat Scott Stringer in the first and only comptroller debate before the general election.

After taking hits for being a Republican in a time when the party has unfavorable ratings due the government shutdown, Burnett went on the offensive. He criticized Stringer for his lack of financial experience and poor attendance record at The New York City Employee Retirement System (NYCERS) meetings.

“You just don’t show up. You are a failure,” Burnett said. Stringer attended 15 out of 165 meetings, and none in the last three years.

Burnett said that Stringer has been a politician so long, “I am surprised you still have a soul,” adding he was surprised he had not sold it off. Stringer didn’t seem all that rattled, saying his wife and sons, who attended the debate, would beg to differ.

Stringer spent most of his time attacking Burnett for being a Republican. He attempting to lump Burnett with other Republicans in Washington. Burnett did not agree with the way certain members of his party acted. Burnett likened the attack to comparing all Democrats to Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner, two Democrats whose careers derailed after scandals. Stringer had no retort.

When asked about the attacks after the debate, with his wife by his side, Stringer shook it off with a smile.

“It is his big moment. It is fine,” Stringer said. “He is obviously a newcomer to government and I think he did what he had to do.”

When asked if it was part of a strategy to increase his name recognition, Burnett said it was not.

“What you saw in there really didn’t have anything to do with strategy. I would have done the same thing if I would have met him on the street and we were at a bar having a discussion about the shutdown [or] pension funds,” Burnett said. “It would have been the same type of heated and spirited debate.”

The attacks may have made for great television and could arguably bring up Burnett’s name recognition. But they revealed how new Burnett is on the political stage. The personal attacks, while great Twitter fodder, are not generally said in a debate.

What Stringer lacks in financial prowess, he more than makes up for in governmental knowhow. Burnett, who has 23 years of financial experience, but has never ran for or held public office, said that not being in government for 20 years like his opponent should be considered positive.

Burnett argued that working in the environment of corporate politics and having to learn the workings of markets and companies around the globe would help him navigate the city government.

“But it does not work the other way,” Burnett said. “He would need about four years to catch up to my financial experience, but he still would be lagging behind.”

Stringer and Burnett will both be on the ballot on Nov. 5. Stringer is not expected to run any television ads. He only raised $425 in the last two-week filing period, something he attributed to no longer doing any large scale fundraising. Stringer has more than $121,000 in his campaign fund.

“I don’t anticipate spending the kind of money we spent against my other opponent,” Stringer said. “I don’t think you will see us raise money for the sake of raising money. We will do our campaign, pay our bills, but we are not trying to game the system.”

Stringer added that he would not take any public matching funds based on Burnett’s low fundraising. To date, Burnett has $6,574 in his campaign fund.

“I don’t think tax payers should pay for a race given where my opponent is financially,” Stringer said.

Kristen Meriwether