By William C. Thompson

While the priorities of New York City have changed since September 11, my optimism for its continued success has not. If anything, the actions of all New Yorkers since that fateful day have given me even more hope for the future. There is no question that we face some difficult fiscal issues in the weeks and months ahead, but if we make smart decisions and work together I am confident that the future will be bright.

The city comptroller is an important independent fiscal monitor and a constructive partner in managing the finances of the city. Good comptrollers have been either recognized experts on the numbers and budget, or leaders who could articulate an overarching vision of the budget as a set of political and policy objectives. These times demand that the comptroller's office be able to perform both of these functions at a high level. We have installed experienced public finance professionals as well as top-flight budget analysts so that all agencies can be assured of current information from top professionals and of my personal involvement.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." His words are a potent reminder of how we must rise to face fiscal challenges that we haven't seen in over 25 years. In other words, the city is at a real crossroads. We have to maintain focus so we don't damage institutions such as our educational system or other city services, but still be able to rebuild lower Manhattan and more generally, our economy. We will take a number of steps so we can accomplish both of these overall objectives.

First, I intend to hold the line on fiscal games the city might be tempted to play to plug budget gaps. That is what got us into trouble in the 1970s. Since then, the ratings agencies have come to expect a level of professionalism in how New York accounts for its finances. We don't want to squander that.

Also, I plan to keep my campaign pledge of being a fiscal activist. September 11th might have caused us to shift our focus, but we must not forget that the need for low and middle-income housing has not diminished and the need for these neighborhoods to receive their share of city services has not faded either. Using lower interest rates to refinance bonds could help the city get back on its feet.

In the coming years, the city can expect the comptroller's office to continue auditing city agencies to assure that taxpayer dollars are fully and efficiently utilized. Such audits are critical to assuring that the city's resources are managed efficiently and that services are provided in the most efficient and cost effective manner.

The city must tap into the spirit of solidarity that investors across the country have been feeling toward New York since September 11. More than ever, the city needs to make these investors feel like stakeholders in the rebuilding process. To that end, my administration will continue to educate and encourage their full participation in the city's finances.

One of the great strengths of New York's financial management is the abundance of fiscal monitors - both government and private - who review the city's finances. These include the state comptroller, Financial Control Board, Citizens Budget Committee, Municipal Assistance Corporation and Independent Budget Office. I will work with all the monitors, to share information when appropriate and to keep lines of communication open.

We have a lot of work ahead of us. But New York City will rebound and forge a new social contract that will unite this city. We will rise again as an ever greater city that will fully understand the value of its diversity and be a beacon of hope to the world.

William Thompson is New York City comptroller.

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