2013 NYC Comptroller Questionnaire

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Instructions: Gothamist plans to interview all candidates for citywide office in 2013. This survey will give us and our readers an overview of each candidate’s positions on issues of particular import to our audience of young New York voters. For each question, please give a a short response outlining your candidate’s position. You may include a link to longer position statements at the bottom of each response, which we will include when we publish the piece. If you do not wish to answer any question, please specify “no comment”. If you have any questions, please contact us.

Candidate Overview 1. The NYC Comptroller is responsible for city fiscal, accounting, and audit functions, as well as acting as the managing trustee for city pension funds. What particular qualifications do you have in these areas? The job of comptroller is to be the manager of a professional staff of some 700 employees in 18 bureaus, who are committed to thoroughly uncovering every dollar of waste, fraud, and inefficiency, safeguarding and growing over $130 billion in pension investments and working with City agencies to ensure that every tax dollar is spent wisely. You need someone who can partner with the mayor when it comes to marketing our city bonds and assuring rating agencies that our long-term fiscal plan is sound, but also someone with the independence and backbone to stand up to special interests and call out wasteful spending when they see it. I bring 20 years of experience to the table, with a proven record of independence, integrity and progressive reform. o o As Borough President, my office has issued over 50 investigative reports on how to make City government better, smarter, and more efficient; I have been serving as a trustee of the New York City Employees’ Retirement System (NYCERS) for the last 7 and a half years, and have served as a member and chair of the NYCERS Audit Committee; I have served as a member of the Franchise and Concession Review Committee (FCRC), working closely with the Comptroller, Mayor and other Borough Presidents to review and approve diverse and major contracts involving City property; I steered major university expansions of Columbia, Fordham and NYU, creating some 30,000 construction and permanent jobs; As a New York State Assemblymember, I chaired the Oversight, Analysis and Investigation Committee and the Real Property Taxation Committee, which held hearings into the tax assessor scandals in 2002; and I’ve worked to expand and diversify our economy through tech and entrepreneurial growth.


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I want to use that experience to help grow NYC’s entire economy – to guard every tax dollar, build pension assets, and hold City government to the highest standards of performance and transparency. I believe I have the skills and the experience to raise the office of Comptroller to a new level, just


like I did with the Borough Presidency. 2. What are the biggest areas of waste and corruption in NYC government, and how would you fix them? As Borough President, my office identified tens of millions of dollars in wasteful spending in City government, on everything from runaway outside consultant costs at the Department of Education (spending on outside consultants soared 455% from 2004 to 2012, rising from $177 million to $982.3 million), to needless subsidies granted to fast food chains and gas stations. My office also shined a light on how the Department of Education had failed to apply for millions in Medicaid reimbursements for programs aiding special education students, while cities like Buffalo received millions in such aid. As Comptroller, I will continue to root out waste, fraud, and abuse wherever it resides so that New Yorkers know that every tax dollar counts, in part by getting involved in the contract process earlier. I would examine large contracts earlier in the process, during pre-bid conferences, and not just at the moment of registration when the details are all but set. That way red flags could be raised sooner and taxpayers would be better protected. Personal Questions 1. Do you rent or own your home? My wife, Elyse, and I rent our current home. 2. Do you have a pet? No. 3. If you have children, do/did/will they attend public schools? Our son, Max, is approaching his second birthday and our newborn son, Miles, is just four weeks old. I fully expect they will both attend public schools when the time comes. 4. How often do you ride NYC subways and buses? How often do you bike? As a native New Yorker, I have ridden NYC subways and buses all my life. Growing up in Washington Heights, the A train was my gateway to the City. I retired my bike after high school. 5. Do you personally manage your own finances? How is your money invested? My wife and I manage our finances. I invest my money carefully. NYPD

1. Do you support an independent inspector general for the NYPD?

I support an Inspector General (IG) for the NYPD. An IG under the auspices of the City’s Department of Investigation will increase accountability and identify ineffective police practices. Public reporting of any findings will ensure that there will always be transparency by NYPD concerning how its officers combat crime and engage in civilian encounters. Every NYC agency other than the NYPD already has an inspector general under the Department of Investigations, including the FDNY and the Department of Corrections. I support the NYPD and its dedicated police officers who every day work to keep us safe. An IG will not undermine this public safety mission but will enhance the public’s understanding of why police officers take action in our communities.


2. Do you favor greater transparency into NYPD terrorism funding and operations? Yes. The NYPD is the largest recipient of federal homeland security grant money, including approximately $150 million annually from the Urban Area Security Initiative, and tens of millions more from the State Homeland Security Program (SHDP) and other programs. Pension Funds 1. How would you improve performance and oversight for city pension funds? Ensuring the long-term health and sustainability of the City’s pension funds and protecting the retirement security of our City workers are among the most critical responsibilities of the Comptroller. Taken together, New York City’s pension funds are the sixth largest in the nation, and I will work to ensure we lead the nation in professionalism, integrity and prudent strategies to generate strong, risk-adjusted returns and limit volatility to meet our funding obligations and reduce costs for the City. In partnership with the other pension trustees, we must continue to carefully diversify our investments and systematically lower volatility, manage risk and reduce manager fees. Diversifying our portfolio means not only optimizing our asset allocation but also addressing risk allocation by comprehensively evaluating and monitoring it throughout our investments to protect our funds from excessive loss during economic downturns. I will seek to expand the capacity and expertise of the in-house investment staff to enable the best and most efficient investment practices. And I will work with other public pension funds in the nation to identify best practices, sound joint investment ideas and strategies to collectively leverage the reduction of investment fees. 2. Do you feel that hedge funds are an appropriate investment for city pension funds? The role of hedge funds as an investment strategy for pension funds is to provide further portfolio diversification, create lower volatility and decrease correlation to traditional asset classes. Hedge funds serve as an investment strategy for many public pension funds and other institutional investors, including New York City pension funds. The City pensions’ strong concentration in public equity and bonds cause the funds to be closely correlated with the market and subject to dramatic loss during major downturns. Hedge funds theoretically serve to create more portfolio stability. However, hedge funds must be carefully and rigorously vetted and selected for investment. Very few hedge funds are appropriate for public institutional funds. Any City investment in hedge funds must ensure the fund offers an investment strategy that meets the diversification and stability needs of the pension fund, carries minimal risk, is transparent, has appropriate liquidity and leverage and offers reasonably low fees. 3. Do you think it's appropriate for city pension funds to invest in: a) companies doing business in contested areas like the West Bank? b) gun or other weapons manufacturers? c) alcohol or cigarette manufacturers? d) companies with poor environmental records?

The City’s pensions should consider the impacts of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) factors on the performance of their investments and the interest of pension beneficiaries. It is within the fiduciary duty of the Comptroller and pension trustees to consider a range of actions regarding holdings in companies with risks to public health and safety and the environment that undermine the value of our investments. Such action includes engaging such companies to improve their corporate governance policies and practices to minimize risk and create greater long-term value. It may also be appropriate to divest from such companies if supported by a rigorous financial analysis of the portfolio impacts and available alternatives.


New York City pension funds have encountered a number of campaigns to divest from companies or sectors engaging in harmful conduct. As a trustee of NYCERS, I proposed the board adopt a comprehensive divestment policy to ensure we comply with our fiduciary responsibility and employ a consistent and rigorous approach to all divestment decisions and that such decisions are based on financial and economic considerations. Such a policy will allow us to determine whether to divest of any holdings, refrain from investing further in certain holdings, or maintain holdings and engage companies in improving business practices. In addition, I proposed that NYCERS develop a comprehensive ESG (environmental, social and governance) policy that assesses ESG risks throughout the portfolio, such as companies with harmful or inefficient environmental practices that hurt their long-term business success. As Comptroller, I will ensure these policies are well developed and utilized to guide our pensions in fulfillment of our fiduciary duty and address potential risk and harmful investments.

Miscellaneous 1. Would you support raising NYC's minimum wage, and if so, to what? I support the President’s call for a nationwide increase in the minimum wage as well as Governor Cuomo’s recently passed increase in New York State’s minimum wage. While the minimum wage should be pegged to inflation, the increase from $7.25 to $9.00 an hour will make a significant difference to thousands of New Yorkers who are struggling to make ends meet.

2. Do you support paid sick leave for all NYC businesses? I have been a longtime advocate for a paid sick leave policy in New York City and I am grateful that the City Council passed a paid sick leave bill that covers nearly 1 million New Yorkers. Paid sick leave is essential to work-life balance. No longer will New Yorkers have to choose between a paycheck and caring for a sick child or parent. Like many workplace protections, paid sick is a win-win for employees and employers alike. • • • • Universal paid sick nationally would reduce emergency room visits by 1.3 million a year, saving $1.1 billion in medical costs annually. Workers with access to paid sick days are nearly 30% less likely to be injured on the job, resulting in lower health care and employer costs. Without paid sick days, employees come to work unhealthy, costing employers $160 billion per year due to lower productivity levels. San Francisco, the first locality to guarantee paid sick days, experienced faster economic growth than that of surrounding cities.

As paid sick leave is implemented, it will be crucial to track the costs to businesses and the productivity gains borne by this new worker protection. If paid sick provides benefits as expected, we should continue to evaluate how and whether to expand access to this critical benefit. 3. How will you increase transparency and good government policies as comptroller? Throughout my career in public service, I have made transparency and accountability central to my work. As an Assemblymember, I led the fight to end “empty seat voting,” a practice by which legislators could cast votes even when they were not present in the legislative chamber.


As Borough President, I opened up the community grants process through my TranspareNYC website, inviting in independent panels of experts to determine where needs are greatest and to make all funding decisions. I also made sweeping reforms to Manhattan’s Community Boards restoring ethics, accountability and performance to these bodies. By establishing a standardized application procedure with an independent screening panel, I removed the politics from the appointment process, also increasing their diversity, capacity and expertise. And I launched the NYC Taxpayer Receipt so that New Yorkers could see exactly where their hard earned tax dollars were going. I’ve always believed that sunlight is the best disinfectant and it will be no different if I am elected Comptroller. As Comptroller, I will ensure that the process of setting prevailing wages is fully transparent and consistent. Some of the steps that can be taken include: • Embracing technology to increase participation in and improve the accuracy and timeliness of the surveys needed to determine the appropriate wage. Canvassing the methodology of other states and municipalities to identify best practices for setting wages and ensuring transparency. And making all documents used to set prevailing wage rates, including collectivebargaining agreements, easily identifiable online.

In addition, I believe it is critical that we start the conversation about ways to increase transparency regarding economic development spending and improve accountability for companies that are beneficiaries of tax credits and other economic development incentives. An economic development “dashboard” providing a user-friendly breakdown of how EDC funds are used and whether the beneficiaries have met goals for employment and economic activity could st enhance our understanding of how effective the City has been at building NYC’s 21 century economy. Furthermore, I will explore ways to enhance transparency for City contracts, make every City contract more accessible for public review and improve public notice and opportunity for public input in the City contracting process.


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