Two of the men seeking to be New York City’s next comptroller touted their different backgrounds and experiences in an Aug. 1 forum in Laurelton, each saying his made him more qualified than the other to be the city’s next top financial officer.
Democrat Scott Stringer is the Manhattan borough president and also served 13 years in the state Assembly.
Republican John Burnett has spent more than 20 years in the financial services industry, including supervisory and management positions at Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch.
Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who joined the Democratic campaign just prior to the deadline for nominating petitions, was invited by Concerned Citizens of Laurelton, the major sponsor of the forum that also included mayoral candidates, but did not attend.
The forum took place at Linden Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Laurelton.
Democrat John Liu, who now holds the office, was in attendance to participate in the forum for mayoral candidates.
The exchange of qualifications came down largely to Burnett’s experience with finance, pensions and the audit process, and Stringer’s knowledge of government and how it can be made to work.
Stringer said the comptroller can wield considerable influence with decisions on how and where to invest pension dollars, having an impact far beyond the office’s primary duties of investing and auditing.
“The comptroller has to make sure people are supported and protected,” Stringer said. He also said controversies such as the NYPD’s stop and frisk program can come under his purview because of the amount of money involved in things like litigation.
“The city last year paid out between $500 million and $600 million in claims,” Stringer said, much of it from suits against the NYPD.
He said the office can conduct relevant audits to see where changes could be made.
Burnett said financial knowledge is more important than government knowledge.
“You have to be qualified to do the job,” he said. He said the primary function is to oversee and grow the city’s five multibillion-dollar pension funds to realize maximum return on the money invested.
He also favors combining them into one plan for greater savings on fees. He also pointed out that any time the pension investments underperform, the city is obligated to make up the difference with tax dollars.
“I don’t want to raise taxes to do that, and not just because I’m a Republican,” he said.
Burnett also questioned whether a candidate so steeped in the political system could be counted on to effectively audit those he has worked with for years.
“And it seems to me that every time someone gets elected comptroller, he spends the next three years running for some other office,” he said.