The Second Most Powerful Position In The
by William Thompson
It's good to be here this evening, my name is Bill Thompson
and I'm running for New York City comptroller. I'm going to
try to talk a little bit about my background, a little bit
about me. A little bit about how that fits in with the office
of the comptroller. And then finally, my vision of the comptroller's
office is, what do I see that office as.
I am a New York City resident, I was born and grew up in
New York City, lived in the city all my life. I am a product
of New York City's public schools. I left New York City, went
to Tufts University in Massachusetts and came back. Over my
career I spent time as special assistant to the chief of staff
to a congressman; deputy borough president of Brooklyn; an
investment banker; a member of the New York City Board of
Education, and from the middle of 1996 until March 31st of
this year, president of the New York City Board of Education.
Now, how does any of that fit in with the comptroller's office?
At first glance, it wouldn't appear to. But I think if you
look at the experiences I've had, first as deputy borough
president. There was a Board of Estimate, the borough president
sat on the Board of Estimate. The Board of Estimate oversaw
the budget, and they did the budget along with the Mayor of
the City of New York. As well as all the contracts of over
ten thousand dollars. They voted on them, they provided oversight
on those contracts.
Also during that period of time, I sat as a trustee for the
largest pension system in the City of New York. One of five
pension systems. And it's probably the fourth largest pension
system in America. So I had the opportunity to sit as a trustee.
And that's another major function of the comptroller's office.
So I've had that experience.
And then as public finance banker, after I left Borough
Hall. Another function and role of the comptroller is to pick
half the underwriting team of the City of New York. And I
remember what it was like sitting in that office before the
deputy comptroller, making my pitch along with my firm, and
hoping to be selected as part of the underwriting team. We
were fortunate enough to do that, so we also worked on behalf
of the firm that worked on behalf of the City of New York.
And then, as a member of the Board of Education I sat on
the pension system. The Board of Education retirement system.
So I sat and experienced that time as a member of two of the
five pension systems of the City of New York. And then on
the budgets at once again, the Board of Education, if you
will, an institution that is not exactly known for fiscal
integrity. Some of the things and directions I helped to move
that institution in.
This point now, you can sit, break our budget down all the
way to the individual school level, which we publish yearly.
We're the envy of school systems across this country, as we
explain where the money goes. And that's something I'm very
proud of. So, if you look at my background, if you look at
the experience of budget, contracts, experience of pension
systems, asset management, experience in public finance...
I think it's safe to say that I'm probably the best qualified
candidate to be comptroller.
Now, where do I see the comptroller's office in the scheme
of New York City? How do I see it interacting? I see the comptroller's
office as probably the second most powerful position in the
city. He is, when done correctly, a counterbalance to the
mayor. A counterbalance to a number of things that happen
in the city. Now, one of the roles of the comptroller is to
provide oversight and audit agencies. To eliminate and curtail
waste. Make sure that our tax dollars are being well spent.
But I think in doing those fiscal and performance audits,
it's important to say the comptroller can influence policy...by
making those audits public, by calling attention to those
audits, and then by pointing out and then suggesting ways
that things can be done better.
And also to provide important oversight into city agencies
to make sure that each and every one of our neighborhoods
gets its fair share of city services. I see the comptroller's
office as a more activist office, providing that type of leadership
on the audits. I see providing leadership in other ways, and
being more of an activist office.
Right now, the five pension systems total more than 90 billion
dollars in assets. To invest one half of one percent to one
percent of pension funds in not just low and moderate, but
middle income housing in the City of New York, also. It goes
a long way and can help make this city a better place. To
be able to keep the residents of the city here and to keep
this experience a rule.
And then second, that same one half of one percent to one
percent also invested in economic development in the city.
To make sure that we continue economic expansion and it gets
to all five boroughs. That's another way the comptroller can
be an activist, as far as making things happen in the city.
But in addition to that, the one thing in talking about the
comptroller's office, and it ties into where the city...and
they're things to be done there now as far as proxy voting
and making sure that in share holder resolutions that we're
active in making sure the corporations around this country
provide adequate facilities and other things for working men
and women around the country. That's something I would continue.
Enforce a prevailing wage to make sure that working men and
women get a fair day's wage for a fair day's work. But at
the same point, I see the comptroller as the second highest
position in the city. I think it's important, as we move into
the first year of term limits, where almost everybody leaves
office at the same time. So, it's all three citywide elected
officials, four of the five Borough Presidents, 35 of the
51 City Councilpeople.
I think it's important that people be put in the position
of leadership who have experience, background and knowledge.
But also, people who are willing to stand up. And I see that
as being an integral part of the comptroller's office. Standing
up, fight for what is right for the people of this city, I
think that's important.
So, if you look at my history, whether it was at the borough
bresident's office, or whether it was as a member of the Board
of Education, where I had to stand up and fight for our children,
fight with the Governor when he denied us our fair share of
resources, and continuing that fight. Or whether it's fight
with the Mayor of the City of New York when he continued his
attacks on public education. And stand up to him and say no
to vouchers, and no to other things.
I think it's important to take that leadership, to take that
type of skill and move it to the comptroller's office. So,
that's a little bit about me, and about how I see my background
fitting into the comptroller's office, and where I see the
Comptroller's office going. It's an office that, if you use,
if you fully use the authority of the office and that pulpit
that you have, it's a powerful position. A powerful position
for change and for improving the city
Question: You look at certain city agencies and you
say these are success stories, you look at others and you
say they're failures. I know nothing about education. But
everything that I read in the newspapers, everything I see
on TV tells me we're doing a disaster with educating our children,
it's a total failure. How are you going to respond to people
who say we trusted you with the Board of Education...?
Thompson: How am I going to respond to that? With
honesty. I would take people to a point in the Board of Education
in its history, and did the education system fail its children,
and I said it's failed its children, for decades. I'll take
the full point. That point's probably 1996. What I would talk
about is, the change that occurred at the Board of Education,
I could talk about the reading scores and improvement at the
Board. The thing I'm probably proudest about is in a system
that they said couldn't change, and that the legislation would
never change, one of the first things I did as president was
put together the effort, and got the structure of the Board
of Education to change. That, in fact, was the first time
in its history, or the first time since the late sixties and
decentralization. It was my legislation and the work that
I did, the group that I put together, and it was the business
community across the city, the New York City Partnership,
it was the UFT, it was the parents. And we changed the book.
And by that authority invested in the Chancellor.
And I would use that to talk about what have I done in education
since then. I think you could look at the change in the Board
of Education, the education structure since 1996, or before
the school year started in September of 1997, and we looked
at raised standards, real standards across a school system.
Raised reading scores each year on an incremental level. I
can go on and on. Change our budget structure, hold principals
and superintendents accountable, and fired principals and
superintendents for the first time in its history for non-performance.
I think that particularly, given the contrast that when I
was there and when I left, I see the difference. So, do I
think an education system has changed? Yeah. Is it where it
needs to be? Absolutely not. But it's made inc remental change
and growth over the past four years. I'm very proud of that.
That's how I'd answer that question.