NY Comptroller Candidates Face Off in Roundtable

July 23, 2009 Updated: July 23, 2009
Candidates take part in the Crain's New York Breakfast Forum at the Hyatt.
Candidates take part in the Crain's New York Breakfast Forum at the Hyatt.

NEW YORK—With 48 days left until the comptroller primary elections, the four comptroller candidates are kicking off their campaigns. They started off at the Crain's New York Breakfast Forum at the Hyatt Wednesday.

All four are democratic members of City Council. Each candidate had 90 seconds to answer questions about their opinions on fiscal issues facing the city. Each candidate was also asked questions about what the role of comptroller means to him or her.

On the future comptroller's plate will be how to pay for an aging population's pensions, raising revenue and stimulating economic growth while closing a budget gap of $500 million, and a debt of $59 billion. In light of Council Member Miguel Martinez's recent resignation in anticipation of being charged for channeling city council funds to a nonprofit group, the new comptroller will also face questions of how to promote integrity among elected officials.

The race so far has had its share of drama. Critics accuse Katz and Yassky of taking contributions from developers—Katz especially as she chairs the City Council's Land Use Committee. But she says her ties to the real estate industry is a plus, not a detractor.

Latecomer to the race John Liu was under fire from Katz and others when he decided to run for comptroller. Queens Democratic Party Executive Secretary Mike Reich told the Daily News that the he lamented the idea that three Queens council members will be running for the position. "I don't know why he would do this; the more people there are from Queens in the running, the less likely it is that someone from Queens will win,” he said.

In light of Liu’s seemingly spontaneous decision, Katz said in a statement that New Yorkers, “Deserve a comptroller who respects and champions this position for the importance that it holds, not someone who views it as a second choice.”

The primary election will take place on September 15.

 

 
 

Melinda Katz

John Liu

David Weprin

David Yassky

 Brief biography A former member of the state assembly, a merger and acquisitions attorney, chair of Land Use Committee, and a representative of Elmhurst, Queens.  Taiwanese immigrant, chair of the Transportation Committee on the City Council; Flushing, Queens.  Chair of Council’s Finance Committee; represents Bayside, Fresh Meadows, Queens  Council Member of Greenpoint, Park Slope, Brooklyn. Formerly with senator Chuck Schumer’s subcommittee on crime.
 Political positions previously coveted…  Congress, 1998  Bid to run for public advocate this year, but dropped it. None  Congress in 2006, lost to councilmember Yvette D. Clarke
The Comptroller’s job…  Is not a bully pulpit for the mayor’s seat, not for press conferences—it’s to protect New Yorkers  Is an office from which to fix infrastructure and along the way create jobs  Is an office to bring to the people, to expand into satellite offices, one in each borough. To help people with their finances and deal with predatory lending  Is to make NYC a good place to do business and to ensure transparency—the city budget should be posted online at itsyourmoneynyc.com.

 How bad is the City’s budget crisis on a

scale of 1 to 10, 10 being apocalyptic?

 5—It’s not a disaster but every year there are problems, and the billions in reserve are pretty much used up.  7—It’s difficult to balance the budget. We need to have a more graduated income tax and a mechanism to allow a stabilization account.  3.5—We’re not in the same situation as the state. When we had a surplus we prepaid a lot of our debt, and I was a sponsor for that legislation.  8—I thought I was an optimist, but I guess not. We had $4 billion in budget surplus but we’ve used that up, and we won’t have as many stimulus dollars next year as we did this year.

 What to do about the pension? Currently it is heavily

invested in a down stocks market.

 Earlier, the idea was to include less public equity and more real estate investment in the pension fund, and that was right for the time, but now we need to be concerned with the return of investment.  We need to restore confidence in the people and go back to safety. We need to streamline the requests-for-proposals process so we can cope with the volatility in the stocks market. When the pension decreases, taxpayers have to make up for it and that wreaks havoc on the budget. We need to diversify the pension portfolio.
 How will you combat stealing public money—set up a special corruption unit to monitor city council spending?  Set up an audit and get parties into one room to negotiate.  Set up a new unit to investigate no-bid contracts, and extend oversight to executive branch.  Use the audit function for all outside contracts. Earmarks are small but they go to groups that otherwise would not get money allocated to them, save from local politicians attuned to their needs.  Earmarks from single politicians are not the way for the city to provide services. End all earmarks—they corrupt the budget process and distract us from waste in parts of the budget.
 

 

Melinda Katz (Scott Gries/Getty Images)
Melinda Katz (Scott Gries/Getty Images)
John Liu (The Epoch Times)
John Liu (The Epoch Times)
David Weprin (The Epoch Times)
David Weprin (The Epoch Times)
David Yassky (The Epoch Times)
David Yassky (The Epoch Times)