"I Don't Need On-The-Job Training"
by Herbert Berman
Thank you, good evening ladies and gentlemen. I'm running
for the Comptroller of the City of New York, and I think that
in any discussion concerning the race, there are probably
three things that you want to know. Number one: why I'm running
for comptroller. Secondly, what are my qualifications for
being comptroller, and finally, what can I do for the youth
and the people of the City of New York as comptroller?
Well, frankly, I'm running for comptroller for several reasons,
not least of which is the fact that I'm extraordinarily passionate
about the City of New York. I've lived here my entire life.
I currently live in Brooklyn, I've always lived in Brooklyn,
I grew up there. I grew up with my family up there. I attended
the public schools. This city has been great to me. I love
government, I love the work that I do, and I want to be able
to pay something back to this city. Particularly since I came
into government during the 1975-76 fiscal crisis. And that
was an extraordinary time and I've tempered my attitude toward
government because I remember overnight 65,000 people lost
their jobs. Hundreds of programs were discontinued. People
were put out on the street from hospitals, mental hospices.
Thousands of teachers lost their jobs. I remember my children
were in the public schools, and as a consequence of that time,
they went to school with 40, 50 people in a classroom and
were often compelled to sit on radiator covers because they
didn't have chairs. And I never want to see that happen again.
And one of the ways I believe I can prevent that is by utilizing
my province, my expertise, my knowledge as comptroller. Because
the comptroller is the chief fiscal officer of the City of
It is the comptroller that sets the standard for economic
development, the fiscal policy and I suggest to you that it
is only through sound fiscal policy, good economic thinking
that we as democrats can implement the priorities that should
be implemented in this city.
And what are some of those priorities? Probably the most
important priority, the most significant problem facing this
city is the total breakdown and failure of education. Ladies
and gentlemen, we spend eleven billion dollars a year to educate
a little over one million children in the City of New York.
And they've totally failed at that job. There is breakdown
in that mission, there is an inability to perform the function,
times have to change, things have to be done, education has
to be rescued.
The second problem is affordable housing and in a couple
of moments I'll go into that issue. And third, but certainly
not least of the problems is economic development. Only through
sound fiscal policy can we generate enough economic development
in this city, particularly now, in the outer boroughs, because
in Manhattan there is significant economic development existing
here, certainly below 96th Street.
But in order to provide a good important base to people you
have to have innovative sound economic policy at work. And
I'll be glad to go into that in the question and answer time.
Why do I think that I'm best qualified to be comptroller?
One word, ladies and gentlemen, and that is experience. I
have been a member of the City Council for 26 years. For six
of those years I served as Chair of the Education Committee
of the Council. There in my tenure, as Chair of the Education
Committee, which was soon after the end of the fiscal crisis,
more money was returned to education than ever before in the
history of the City of New York, and frankly, since that time.
We made good so much of the losses that took place in education
and simultaneously, passed very significant legislation. And
I will tell you also, one of the most important pieces of
legislation that we passed with the help of the District Attorney
was the implementation of metal detectors, particularly in
the high schools where necessary. And it is actually an amazing
thing, for the first month that we implemented those metal
detectors, we went to some high schools, and at that time
they didn't have enough metal detectors for all the schools.
So it was always a guessing game where the metal detectors
So we went to one particular school, and as soon as they
saw that the metal detectors were there, outside of the door
we picked up dozens of knives and guns and blackjacks and
you name it. It was an amazing experience. But it taught us
that if you're going to provide a safe environment for children,
you have to be willing to make the investment. We couldn't
do it without the implementation of that law. But we did that,
and the deal was very helpful. Giving us statistics and giving
us support in that effort.
The last twenty years I served as Chair of the Finance Committee,
and still serve as Chair of the Finance Committee in the City
Council, and that's a very, very important job. And it's probably
the second most important and significant job in the City
Council following the Speaker. The Chair of the Finance Committee
stands alongside the Speaker in formulating the budget, which
this year alone is almost 40 billion dollars. That is an extraordinary
amount of money. As a matter of fact, that exceeds the budget
of many countries throughout the world. So it just gives you
by dint of comparison what it means.
But as Chair of the Finance Committee I have several important
responsibilities that relate to my role, and what my role
would be as comptroller. Firstly, I have the obligation of
bringing together the fifty-one disparate mentalities, priorities,
needs and concerns of the various members of the City Council.
And we do it in such a way that our budgets are not only defensible
by all of the members of the City Council, on the occasion
somebody disagreed. But overwhelmingly we get incredible support.
But we bring it in on time and budgets that balance to the
extent that the city's bonds are now A-rated, and some of
our bonds are double A-rated and saves us a lot of money but
we have to get a marking for our bonds and it enables us to
have more money to spend on services.
But more important, it becomes my job as Chair of the Finance
Committee to defend each year against what appears to be repeatedly
onerous cuts in quality of life services that are essential
and significant in the continued existence of this city. For
example, the Mayor proposed reductions of 46 million dollars
in libraries in the City of New York, which would eliminate
many of the services in many branches on the weekends, and
at nighttime. And frankly, that would deny the opportunity
of many working people from ever having the opportunity to
utilize the library.
A proposed 23 million dollar cut in cultural institutions
which is totally regressive because our cultural institutions
generate tremendous tourism here and results in people coming
here and spending money here and generating revenue that we
could utilize to pay for services. It is just totally regressive
and foolish. 20 million dollars in youth programs, PAL , the
president of the Police Athletic League, it would impact upon
that. Parks programs, health programs, AIDS programs, a whole
school of programs that are just inappropriate, it is my job
to defend against those cuts, and I've done that every year
for the last eleven years. And we've done it successfully
to the extent that we have enhanced tremendously services
that are currently available in the City of New York.
Frankly, in my experience, important to the role of the comptroller
is the auditing capacity of the comptroller's office. I have
done major audits as Chair of the Finance Committee. Just
to mention a couple of them that have saved hundreds of millions
of dollars. Did the initial survey of OTB, and we labeled
it and it became quite famous: The only bookie organization
in the City of New York that loses money. Which was a reality.
It's the truth. It was the truth.
As a consequence of the audit that was performed the managerial
control approach used dramatically changed, and from the time
it was losing 2-3 million dollars a year, this year we can
anticipate that OTB will return 40 million dollars to the
state. And of course, perversely, now the Mayor wants to sell
it. That's a debate for another day.
We also did a major investigation into school board travel.
Where we followed the people, school board members who were
allegedly going to staff development conferences in Las Vegas,
and they definitely went to Vegas, except they never got out
of the casinos. And Marsha Kramer reported that and got an
Emmy award, because she did the story with us. And that dramatically
changed the process by which school board travel was audited
by the Board of Ed. So I don't need on the job training. I've
been doing these roles, I've been doing these things that
are the functions of the Comptroller's office.
We just did a major survey to determine how we could utilize
pension monies to safely invest in affordable housing. Lo
and behold, we came across this organization, the CPC, The
Community Preservation Committee, and we found out that they'd
invested four hundred and fifty million dollars of pension
money. And not only have done that, but they've returned significantly,
because that's the first obligation to the pensioners.
So it can be done, you have to have the courage and willingness
to do it. I have that courage and I also would strengthen
and enforce prevailing wage section of the comptroller's office.
One of the things we have an obligation to do, is to make
certain that people who work with the city, do business with
the city get a fair return for their work so that they can
live decently in the city.
I could go on, and perhaps I'll answer questions, or at another
time I can come back if you invite me back. But let me just
wrap up by saying that when I was a kid in Brighton Beach,
my dad had just lost his business in the Depression, and in
order to make a living for the family, I would spend weekends
walking up and down Brighton Beach selling ice cream. And
at nighttime when the sun would go down we would take sand
sifters and we'd go to the beach and we'd sift the sand in
an effort to find loose change. Because the fifty cents or
a dollar that we'd find would make a difference between eating
and not eating on that particular day. Nobody should ever
have to go back to that.
I abhor the fact that people are forced to live like that.
I want to devote my life to making certain that we never go
back to that state of being. Folks, I want to be the comptroller,
I believe I have the expertise, I have the talent, I have
the experience, I have the knowledge. And I want to continue
to give back to the City of New York. I ask for your support,
I ask for your help. I want to thank you for being so attentive,
and waiting for me here, and I'll be glad to answer any questions.
Question: I know that every year, for the last eight
or nine years the Mayor has done in the libraries and cultural
institutions. How much money did the council restore last
Berman: Last year we did somewhere about three hundred
million dollars in essential trusts, that is not counting
probably upwards of close to a billion dollars in capital
improvements. One of the things, for example, that we did
was a couple of years ago the Speaker and myself announced
a program that allocated 1.4 billion dollars to the school
construction authority for the purpose of dealing with immediate
needs in education.
But there's such a morass of incompetence. You know, I often
describe the Board of Ed and the School Construction Authority
like a roach motel. Money checks in and never checks out.
It's absolutely amazing. We are still waiting for them for
about two-three years to competently come ahead with a program
to show how they can spend that money in an emergency surrounding.
So, it is really very discouraging. But we spend...each year
it's different, they're several. When we did the safe city,
safe streets program, which was a very profound program, we
allocated upwards of close to a million dollars which was
an add on at that time. So it depends and varies each year,
and it depends on how cooperative the Mayor wants to be with
the council, or whether or not the Mayor at that time, is
running for any other office.
It's amazing, we should force people to run for mayor every
year, because every time there's a mayoral election suddenly
the budget becomes a lot easier to deal with. All right, any
Question: New York City misses out on millions and
millions of dollars, because people who live here register
their cars in other states. I can register my car in Vermont
with a New York address. Vermont gets the sales tax, registration
fees. I can then claim I live in Vermont and not pay New York
income tax. And nobody knows to do anything about this problem.
There are ways to deal with it, like having resident-only
parking, only alternate side spots, only from eight to six,
Monday through Friday. But no one's ever wanted to touch this
issue, but if you walk down, believe me go up to any residential
neighborhood, a third of the cars have out-of-state plates.
Berman: I think you have a very creative idea. Let
me just tell you that, this city depends on tourism. Last
year we had thirty-seven million tourists in the City of New
York. Tourism is the second largest industry in the city after
Wall Street. So you can't restrict parking, because that would
be a major inhibitant to tourism and commerce. But there are
other ways of doing it, particularly at a time when we have
computers. Let me turn it over to my staff, and see what they
can come up with and hopefully they'll be able to start coming
back with some recommendations.