Gotham Gazette

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Race for Mayor: Republican Primary A Two-Candidate Race

sliwa mateo gop

Fernando Mateo, left and Curtis Sliwa

With under 50 days until primary day, June 22, the race to become the next Mayor of New York City has been picking up steam, though far greater attention continues to be on the crowded and competitive Democratic primary, in large part because it is likely to choose the next mayor based on the party’s very heavy (nearly 8 to 1) voter enrollment advantage. But New York had two mayors elected as Republicans who led the city for five terms from 1994 through 2013, and there is a competitive GOP primary this year, open to the roughly 566,000 Republican voters in the five boroughs (compared to almost 3.8 million Democrats and 1 million independents).

The Republican mayoral primary race has narrowed into a one-on-one contest between Guardian Angels founder and radio personality Curtis Sliwa and advocate and businessman Fernando Mateo. Former Wall Street executive Sara Tirschwell, who had been leading in fundraising, was knocked off the ballot when it was being finalized based on the Board of Elections’ assessment of her petition signatures and, according to The New York Post, after an ally of Mateo’s, Robert Morgan III, filed a challenge against her designating petitions.

At a mayoral forum hosted by the New York City Hospitality Alliance last month, Tirschwell insinuated Mateo led the efforts to remove her from the ballot and repeatedly confronted him on the matter. During the forum, Tirschwell exclaimed, “The Republican Party operatives behind candidate Mateo would prefer to protect their petty thiefdoms than give their rank and file members the opportunity to vote for me.”

After being officially eliminated from the race, Tirschwell released a statement again claiming Mateo and his allies targeted her ballot access. She stressed their actions were exemplary of the very issues she ran to solve and endorsed Sliwa, who supported her claims and she said had treated her with respect.

In the weeks that remain, the competition between colorful and controversial candidates, Mateo and Sliwa, will likely be fierce, especially given the verbal sparring between the two at mayoral forums that have already occurred. There are scheduled to be two official, televised debates between the two, per the New York City Campaign Finance Board, on May 26 and June 6. While Sliwa is likely better known to New Yorkers, Mateo had a major fundraising advantage as of the March campaign finance filings.

Though all acknowledge the winner of the Republican primary will have a very steep climb to victory in the general, some cite parallels between the city’s current troubled state and the city during the years Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg were elected. Giuliani, who’d had a high-profile career as a federal prosecutor, positioned himself as a law-and-order candidate during a time when the city’s murder and other crime rates soared. In 2001, Bloomberg ran for mayor in the wake of the September 11 terror attack, when New York City’s future was seen as uncertain.

This year, mayoral candidates from both major parties must address the pandemic-driven economic and fiscal crises, as well as a surge in gun violence that also appears related to the fallout from the virus’ socioeconomic impact. Murder increased 36% in 2020 over 2019, for example.

With the city in economic and public safety trouble, there’s opportunity for Sliwa and Mateo to make their case, and for the winner of the primary to pitch conservative Democrats and independents to vote Republican. There still may not be enough votes to prevail, however, and neither shares the profile or funding capabilities or sense of viability that carried Giuliani and Bloomberg. The latter spent over $100 million to secure a third term in 2009.

Still, whether it is Sliwa or Mateo who faces off the Democratic nominee in what will be an extended general election given the move of the primaries to June, there will be an important debate over the future of the city leading up to the fall election.

Sliwa’s claim to fame is the 1979 founding of the now-international volunteer crime-prevention group The Guardian Angels. He has used his long-time experience as a self-appointed crime fighter to position himself as a Giuliani-esque candidate who’s tough on crime. The Brooklyn native is also well-known as a radio ‘shock jock’ on WABC radio and was formerly on NY1 television.

When asked during a mayoral campaign interview if he’d like to apologize for racist and misogynistic commentary in the past, Sliwa replied, “I don't doubt there's anybody else in this race who has done more commentary than yours truly, both in radio, television, and other forms, in which sometimes you're going to say things that are somewhat regretful.” He did not offer an apology. Sliwa resigned from his position as a WABC talk show host to run for office.

In that interview with Gotham Gazette, Sliwa said he’d been an independent for most of his adult life, and noted he previously served as the chair of the New York Reform Party until the party lost ballot access in 2018 and dissolved, though the party Sliwa chaired was not affiliated with the national Reform Party.

Sliwa said he just registered as a Republican in February 2020. He recently announced his plan to create an ‘Animal Welfare’ party line and is currently trying to gather 3,000 signatures for a second petition to qualify for the general election as a candidate on the new line. The party’s sole purpose is to make New York City a ‘no-kill animal shelter’ city similar to Los Angeles and Austin.

Sliwa said he did not vote for Donald Trump in either the 2016 or 2020 presidential election, a contrast to Sliwa who did support Trump in both those elections. Sliwa has been both supportive and critical of Trump on various issues. He has been endorsed by the Brooklyn and Staten Island Republican Party affiliates.

Mateo is most well-known for his work as President of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers and the Bodega Association of America. On the campaign trail he regularly cites founding a job training program for incarcerated non-violent offenders on Rikers Island and the founding of the national Toys for Guns program that aimed to help get guns off the streets. For the latter, he received the Points of Light award from President George H.W. Bush in 1991.

Mateo has talked openly about his adverse upbringing and has claimed the public school system “failed him” and at age 15, he dropped out of high school. At 17, he opened a small carpeting business in the Lower East Side that eventually grew into a multi-million dollar contracting business. Mateo and his wife are the current owners of rooftop bar and restaurant Zona De Cuba in the Bronx. They are also previous owners of the Washington Heights restaurant La Marina, which was shut down after a series of scandals involving health code violations and a drug bust. Mateo has repeatedly claimed that new arrivals to the neighborhoods nearby flooded the city with complaints about the restaurant and that it was also victimized by the police department.

Mateo has leveraged his advocacy and small business ownership experience to position himself as a blue-collar New Yorker who would advocate for small businesses as mayor.

During this race, Mateo’s alleged illegal fundraising for Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio has come up repeatedly, including from Sliwa. He criticized Mateo on the subject at a recent WABC radio mayoral forum, calling Mateo a “de Blasio Republican.” In a recent interview on the Max & Murphy podcast, Mateo denied the allegations and stated, “I don't even know what the definition of straw donor donations are, what I do know is that it's illegal, and I've never done anything illegal.”

Mateo has repeatedly called himself an “urban Republican,” which he explained refers to his life’s work being based in highly Democratic neighborhoods throughout the city, often communities of color. Mateo is of Dominican descent.

“They are the neighborhoods that need the most help,” he said. He claims he offers often “misguided” Democratic neighborhoods an alternative way to succeed. In efforts to differentiate himself from his opponent, he accused Sliwa of “infiltrating the Republican Party” because he’d only recently registered as a Republican.

“I’ve been a Republican since I'm 18 years old and I've voted in Republican races for 30 years,” he said on Max & Murphy. “I've never switched parties. I never danced with any other party.” He voted for former president Donald Trump in both presidential elections, but stopped supporting him after the capitol riot in January, he said. Mateo is backed by the Republican Party affiliates in Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens.

Both candidates acknowledge their low odds of prevailing in the general election, but readily state they are up for the challenge regardless. At the recent WABC mayoral forum, Mateo said,  “We know that Republicans aren't really liked in this city. We know that most people say that a Republican stands no chance to win in New York City, but they also said that to Rudy Giuliani, [George] Pataki, and Bloomberg, and they governed the city for 20 years and 12 years together. Those were the best 20 years that I remember we had in this city. We all know our city’s unsafe. We all know that our city needs a lot of help. And guess what? That's where the Republicans have to step in and make our city better, we have always done the right thing by our city and we will continue to do the right thing in this city.”

In public appearances, both Mateo and Sliwa have been highly critical of de Blasio. In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Sliwa explained why he’s running for mayor. “The same reason you have so many Democrats,” he said. “And it’s because of the disastrous mayoralty of Bill de Blasio. He has so wrecked this city.”

Both candidates were asked to give the term-limited outgoing mayor a letter grade for his tenure, to which Sliwa responded “E-minus” and Mateo responded “Triple F.” Mateo claimed this was the appropriate grade given de Blasio’s “corrupt administration, lack of leadership and for being oblivious to what’s going on in New York City.”

The two Republicans share similar campaign policy platforms centered around quality of life issues, public safety, and economic revitalization. For both of them, public safety is viewed as a foundational necessity for the city’s recovery from the pandemic-induced fiscal crisis. They both pledge more support for the NYPD and a more aggressive police department, though both also recognize that the police department has to ensure racial fairness and proper use of force.

In a recent Max & Murphy podcast interview, Sliwa said, “The only way we're going to get the city back on track is if there is a degree of public safety. If we don't have that, New York City will never recover economically.”

As outlined on his campaign website, Sliwa’s current campaign policy agenda boasts two published plans: property tax reform and business regulatory reform. The first promises to provide economic relief for low- and middle-income city residents. This comes with his proposal to end property tax breaks for entities like Columbia University, large private hospitals, and Madison Square Garden (an area where Sliwa sees eye-to-eye with Democratic candidate Andrew Yang). On his site, the plan states, “Can you believe these billion dollar-backed organizations have gone decades without paying a penny in property taxes? By finally making private, wealthy universities and businesses pay their fair share, I will deliver millions of dollars in tax relief to NYC residents, while keeping NYC’s budget balanced.” He would also institute a property tax exemption for older people with income below $75,000.

Sliwa’s Right to Business Plan would aim to eliminate the currently prevalent bureaucratic barriers that make it challenging for residents to start and keep open businesses. The plan promises to enact a small business loan program that would offer low-value loans for new business owners. He’d also issue a two-year moratorium on all permit and licensing expenses while streamlining the processes of each with set time limitations. On his site, the plan states, “All permit and licensing applications will receive a final determination within 60 days. No business should be left waiting in bureaucratic perpetuity.” Additional points include a revival and expansion of the NYC Business Express initiative and the creation of an Entrepreneur and Small Business Council. This council would be composed of appointed industry leaders who’d advise him on maximizing the effectiveness of partnerships between government and business.

Furthermore, Sliwa has outlined plans to “reinvigorate” the NYPD in public appearances. He recently stood outside One Police Plaza, the NYPD’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan, and officially announced this plan to ‘Refund the Police.’ Sliwa said he’d use the funds drawn from his plan to make New York City’s wealthiest private landlords pay more taxes to replenish the police department’s budget (which has not in reality been depleted). Sliwa is promising to hire an additional 3,000 officers on top of the NYPD’s roughly 36,000 current headcount, more use of the stop-and-frisk tactic, and a more strict response to protests.

“In many ways, we're going back towards the late ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s when we were ‘fear city,’” Sliwa said on Max & Murphy. “So I really fear that we’re not taking the measures necessary to stem the incredible rise of violent crime and the incredible unsafety—lack of safety—that exists in a lot of the subways and a lot of the streets on a daily and nightly basis.”

Sliwa told Gotham Gazette he would reimplement and reform the NYPD’s controversial anti-crime plainclothes units that were the subject of many complaints for brutality in the past and were disbanded last year by Police Commissioner Dermot Shea. Sliwa also supports implementing special units in each precinct composed of mental health experts who would respond simultaneously with officers in cases involving mental health issues.

Though Mateo has not officially released any policy proposals on his campaign website, he has touched on his priorities during various public appearances. Pet issues of his include public safety and regulatory reform for small businesses.

He is also especially focused on strengthening the NYPD, and would do so in part by adding thousands of officers to the force to ensure at least two are at every subway station at night. Mateo said he would take a “top-down approach” to reforming the NYPD that would hold higher-ups accountable for any abuse of power. He vowed to hire police officers and chiefs who are “respectful to New Yorkers” and “believe in social justice.” On that he added, “But I will also let New Yorkers know that we must respect our law enforcement officers. They can't be taunted or spat at or have water dumped on them. That is unacceptable.”

Mateo has also repeatedly mentioned he’d seek to adjust state bail reforms to ensure anyone threatening violence or committing violence is kept incarcerated at a judge’s discretion, pre-trial. In the recent Max & Murphy interview, he added, “Anyone that gets caught with a firearm in New York City, must do time. Enough of this bail reform freeing people that are carrying illegal guns ready to kill, ready to assault, ready to rock someone. That's unacceptable.”

Both Mateo and Sliwa do not support the plan to close down Rikers Island and build four new borough-based jails. Both also said they’d appoint a new NYPD Commissioner to replace current Commissioner Dermot Shea.

Another priority for Mateo is supporting struggling small businesses with tax breaks and the reform of city agencies. At the recent candidate forum focused on the hospitality industry, Mateo repeatedly stated that unlike Sliwa or Tirschwell, he understood from experience “the pain and suffering” that restaurant owners go through to pay rent and taxes and in dealing with the city’s overbearing inspectors. He’s offered broad solutions to these problems with statements such as, “With me, you’re going to welcome inspectors because that inspector will not be there to shut you down.” He stressed that the city would serve as the “insurance company” that small businesses need to succeed.

In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Mateo offered the approach he’d take to address the city’s homelessness crisis. He said he’d build housing in vacant industrial parks in every outer borough that provided the city’s homeless population a “decent” living situation with food banks and mental health services. “I would have whatever they need contained in the community that they would be living in until they were able to transition out,” he said.

Watch Gotham Gazette’s interview with Curtis Sliwa here.

Watch Gotham Gazette’s interview with Fernando Mateo here. 

Listen to the Max & Murphy podcast interview with Curtis Sliwa here.

Listen to the Max & Murphy podcast interview with Fernando Mateo here.

by Emma Seiwell

Democratic Comptroller Candidates Pitch Skills and Plans to Budget Watchdog

Brad Lander, Brian Benjamin, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, Corey Johnson, David Weprin, Zach Iscol

(l-r) Brad Lander, Brian Benjamin, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, Corey Johnson, David Weprin, Zach Iscol

Six leading candidates running in the Democratic primary for New York City Comptroller in the June election appeared at a forum on Tuesday to offer their perspectives on the role of the office, solutions to the city’s uncertain fiscal future, and how they would wield their powers to ensure city government is effective and fiscally responsible. 

The candidates at the forum, hosted by Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit fiscal watchdog group, included Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander, military veteran and entrepreneur Zach Iscol, Manhattan State Senator Brian Benjamin, financial journalist Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and Queens Assemblymember David Weprin. The candidates, selected by CBC from about 10 who will be on the ballot, seemingly based on their fundraising and polling, sought to tout their credentials and set their campaigns apart with just six weeks till the primary, which will be run with ranked-choice voting for the first time and, given Democrats’ heavy enrollment advantage, is all but assured to determine the next city comptroller.

The forum, where candidates appeared one at a time to take questions from CBC President Andrew Rein, showed significant differences among the contenders’ resumes, priorities, and plans for the office.

The comptroller is the city’s top fiscal officer and oversees the city government expenditures, tax revenues, pension investments, settlement of claims, auditing of city agency performance, among other roles. The office also provides a bully pulpit to hold the mayoral administration’s feet to the fire and can act as a springboard to running for higher office – current Comptroller Scott Stringer, a Democrat, is term-limited and is running in the primary to replace outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio. His predecessor, John Liu, also ran for mayor, and is now a state senator.

The next comptroller will be called on to keep a watchful eye on the city budget at a crucial juncture. After the fiscal devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, New York City received $6 billion in direct budgetary aid to plug tax revenue holes through President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, along with $7 billion for public schools and $1 billion in reimbursements through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That has helped Mayor de Blasio balance the current and next fiscal years’ budgets, but gaps of nearly $4 billion for the next three fiscal years remain in the city’s latest projections, though there are a great many unknowns about how the city’s economy will bounce back and what tax revenues may look like. There are a number of reasons for concern and for optimism.

As Rein pointed out at the forum, those gaps are closer to $5 billion because the mayor has promised $1 billion in labor savings without specifying how he will achieve them. At the same time, the city’s pension obligations are also growing and the city will spend $10.3 billion on pension contributions from its operating budget in the next fiscal year, about $1 billion higher than five years ago.

At Tuesday’s forum, the six candidates presented different priorities for their approach to the office, but they all shared some similar views. Every one of them said that the city should be required to put money into a rainy day fund when the economy is growing and should only be able to withdraw from it in times of recession. They also agreed that the city’s Retiree Health Benefits Trust fund remains woefully underfunded and should be bolstered to protect the city’s pensioners. They did split on whether there are any situations where the state Financial Control Board should have the authority to approve the city’s fiscal actions – Iscol, Benjamin, and Caruso-Cabrera said the board should be able to do so if the city’s finances, particularly debt, get out of control, harkening back to the board’s creation during the city’s 1970s fiscal crisis. 

On a scale from one to five, the candidates almost all gave themselves a “four” on their familiarity with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles – Caruso-Cabrera gave herself a “three to four” while Weprin gave himself a “four-and-a-half” rating. 

Brad Lander
Lander, who has represented Council District 39 since 2010, said the next comptroller needs to closely watch how federal aid is spent, and has proposed an American Rescue Plan spending tracker, which he hopes to create through legislation before the City Council.  

“The job of the comptroller is to take the long-term view on the city to make sure we're spending wisely, that we invest in ways that stimulate recovery, to hold the city accountable to our shared goals and to prepare better for future crises,” he said. 

Lander said among his main priorities would be to ensure the one-time federal aid is spent wisely and the city doesn’t “create new longer-term obligations that we can't afford down the road.” He said he would continue to push for reforms to the city’s capital spending, which is between $8 and $10 billion each year and Lander has focused on during his Council tenure.

“Right now, more than half of that is over budget or behind schedule, and I'll push for reforms that can save hundreds of millions of dollars every year and get better infrastructure created on time,” he said. And he promised to undertake a “catastrophic risk assessment” as soon as he enters office to evaluate the long-term fiscal risks to the city.

Pressed to reconcile his progressive beliefs in expansive government with his push for fiscal responsibility, Lander said, “I want bold government action to help us recover from this crisis. We've needed it in this crisis, and we're going to need it to recover from this crisis to build a platform for shared economic growth...To me, not only is there not a contradiction, it's an obligation of progressives to care about the budget, to care about the details, to get in there and really understand how we make government work better.”

Among the ways he said he would push for more savings by the city is a Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG) with a focus on employee attrition, using the comptroller’s office to identify which agencies can save the most funds through headcount reduction. Lander wants to use the auditing powers of the office to more strategically audit agencies, providing them with goals of improvement to meet rather than just point to deficiencies. 

Lander said it may be prudent for the city to reduce it’s target of pension returns from 7% to 6.8% to ensure that the pension funds don’t make risky investments even if it means paying more into them each year through the city budget.

Zach Iscol
Iscol abandoned a campaign for mayor to jump into the comptroller’s race instead. “There is a reason that this is not an office that works for the mayor,” he said on Tuesday. “I think a lot of people often talk about the comptroller as the chief financial officer for the city. I actually don't see it that way...I think that this role really more than anything else is the chief accountability officer of the city, the person whose job it is is to make sure the city is doing its job.”

Iscol said he would create benchmarks for finding savings and addressing the structural fiscal deficiencies in the budget, criticizing the current comptroller for not going far enough to identify savings. “Making sure city spending is tied to outcomes will be a huge priority, especially in the approval of city contracts,” he said. 

He also said he would find creative ways to use the office to spur the city’s economic revival, though he did not offer specific solutions. On savings as well, he provided vague answers, as de Blasio has, for balancing the budget with labor savings. “I would be looking for healthcare savings, I would be looking for labor savings. I would be making investments in the labor force,” he said. “I think this is one thing that people get wrong. We think of labor savings as meaning that you're going to be cutting the workforce. I actually think that when you make cuts, when you don't pay people market're not investing in the workforce.”

He did point to one specific area where savings could be achieved: reducing the city’s reliance on outside consultants.

Iscol was more definitive when asked for agencies for which he would set benchmarks in audits to measure their performance, citing the Department of Sanitation and the Department of Homeless Services. He said he would look to other municipalities that have lower costs of sanitation services and those that have ended veteran homelessness, a particular concern for him.

Iscol said he’d use the power over contract approval to ensure that providers are meeting specific outcomes. “Creating benchmarks is partly about looking around the world, looking around the country, looking at other municipalities and seeing how other places are solving these problems, seeing how much they are spending, seeing what solutions they're bringing to bear,” he said. “We don't have to always reinvent the wheel here at home.”

To improve pension returns, he said he would implement several more recommendations from a 2015 report commissioned by Stringer’s office, which he said could lead to between 1-2% more in returns for the city.  

Brian Benjamin
Benjamin was reelected last year to represent Senate District 30, which includes Harlem, the Upper West Side, Washington Heights, Hamilton Heights, and Morningside Heights. 

He said he would be “completely focused on auditing and investigating city agencies,” particularly the NYPD and the Department of Education for performance audits “because if those two agencies don't work for the city of New York, particularly for those who are most underserved and marginalized, the whole system doesn't work.”

On the NYPD, specifically, he said, “For me it's more about how are we making sure that every single dollar we spend is most efficiently keeping us safe. And I think that there is, if you really dig into the budget you'll find...there's a lot there that should probably be someplace else.”

Relying on his previous investment banking and wealth management experience at Morgan Stanley, Benjamin said he would use the comptroller’s office to make targeted investments that support underserved communities, such as investing in affordable housing, affordable homeownership and permanent supportive housing, while also ensuring an adequate rate of return for the pension funds. 

But his immediate attention would go to the federal stimulus funding. “We need to make sure that that money is being spent, and that it's helping to drive the recovery, and what we need to be concerned about is, is that money going towards recurring or non recurring expenses? Because if we are putting that money towards expenses that recur, we're setting the city up for failure,” he said. 

Benjamin also serves on the board of Brown University, his alma mater, and has repeatedly touted the success of its investment committee, promising to bring that same approach to the comptroller’s office. He said he would work to attract top talent from the private sector to appoint a chief investment officer and others in the Bureau of Asset Management, though he noted that the public sector does not have the ability to pay comparative salaries to the private sector. “The key is to not villainize people, but to reach out to people and say, ‘Listen, this is your city. You have enormous experience. You've done extremely well. New York City has been incredibly valuable to you. I need you to give back and play this important role,’” he said.  

“I think there's a real opportunity for the investment class to play an important role in our recovery,” he added. 

Michelle Caruso-Cabrera
Caruso-Cabrera noted she is the only woman in the ‘top tier’ of candidates, though there are other female candidates in the race as well (who have extensive relevant experience but are unknown and have struggled to raise funds), and the sole Latino candidate in that tier.

Caruso-Cabrera’s pitch for comptroller derives heavily from her decades-long experience as a financial journalist, covering financial crises and recoveries across the globe in countries including Cuba, Iran, Ukraine, Iraq, Italy, Greece, Russia, and Venezuela. “Those are of course, all very different places, but in each, it was always the same. Marginalized and underserved communities always paid a disproportionate price when disaster struck...And as a journalist I saw over and over again that those who can least afford to pay, they always end up paying the most and I'm very worried that without the right kind of leadership in the city, we could easily go down the same path,” she said. 

Caruso-Cabrera wants to use the office of comptroller to ensure the city has an equitable recovery from the pandemic, using forensic audits to ensure that city funds are spent wisely. “I know how to use income statements, balance sheets, and cash flows to be both tools, and in the right hands, they can be weapons,” she said. 


As she rightly pointed out, the office is a helpful stepping stone for greater political ambitions and she has called on the other candidates to pledge not to run for mayor – along with Iscol, Council Speaker Johnson also gave up running for mayor to join the comptroller’s race. But Caruso-Cabrera is solely focused on the job, she said. “I just want to really do the job because I know how important it is in this moment in time that New York City has a turnaround,” she said. 

Among the agencies that she vowed to audit as comptroller is New York City Health + Hospitals, a public benefit corporation and quasi-city agency that runs the largest public hospital system in the country. She pointed, for instance, to Elmhurst Hospital, which was inundated with patients at the height of the pandemic last year while other hospitals had ample space. “Clearly there are tremendous inefficiencies there that led to the most vulnerable people in our city suffering the most,” Caruso-Cabrera said. She also promised to closely examine the Department of Education and the NYPD. “What does the NYPD spend their money on? I want to know, because it's very controversial right now. So I've seen a couple of performance audits, I want to look at the whole gamut.”

She said the city pension funds should likely use a “barbell strategy” that balances high-risk and low-risk investments until there is an increase in interest rates. “I think we should be more liquid, and if it comes down to it, we need to make clear to the City Council the costs they are running up when they do not actually fund a lot of the outstanding costs related to our retirees, not just the pension funds,” she said. 

Corey Johnson
Johnson is serving out his second and final term on the Council, where he represents District 3 on the West side of Manhattan and has been speaker for the current term. “I'll make sure that every dollar we get for covid relief is targeted directly to our recovery and the New Yorkers who need it most,” he said on Tuesday, promising that as comptroller, he’ll create a Recovery and Rebuilding Unit within the office. 

As with the other candidates, Johnson has promised to undertake performance-based audits of the largest agencies including those for education, policing, homeless services, and housing. “The comptroller has subpoena power, the comptroller has audit power, and the goal is to provide that information to the Council and to the next mayor so that when they're making budgetary decisions, they're hopefully putting money into programs that are working and taking money away from programs that aren't working,” he said. 

Johnson has proposed a few new ways that he would structure the functions of the comptroller. He would create a new database of Audits, Claims, Efficacy and Settlements (ACES), which would combine various reports put out by the office to help the public compare an agency’s performance along those different lines.  

He has also proposed creating a CLIMB (Capital Lending and Investing for Minority Owned Businesses) fund that would provide low-interest loans through the pension funds to small minority-owned businesses in communities hardest hit by the pandemic. 

On the pension front, Johnson said the city should reduce its reliance on outside investment managers, who are paid up to $800 million in fees each year. “We should have looked at...would common index funds actually get a similar return on investment than some of the outside investment funds we're using right now? You'd cut down on the fees and you actually may get a better return than the annual expected return,” he said. 

David Weprin
Weprin has represented Assembly District 24 in Queens for five terms. He often touts his previous experience on the City Council, chairing the prominent finance committee during previous fiscal crises, and his work for major financial firms on Wall Street for two decades, among other experience, as his qualifications for comptroller. 

As comptroller, Weprin has promised to open up satellite offices across the five boroughs to expand the comptroller’s reach and provide assistance to small businesses and minority- and women-owned businesses (M/WBEs) as they attempt to access federal stimulus funds to recover from the pandemic. “I think that's a legitimate function for the controller to get involved in,” he said when Rein pushed on the function of opening those offices to help businesses. 

Weprin wants to conduct regular audits of every agency, on an annual basis as opposed to every four years as required by the City Charter. He said he wouldn’t hesitate to increase the office’s auditing staff to meet that goal, ensuring it could be funded by finding savings elsewhere and auditing the outside contracting budget. “There's a lot of waste in some of those contracts,” he said. 

He also promised to streamline the process of registering contracts for nonprofit human service providers, who often can go months, if not more than a year, without being paid, forcing them to the brink of insolvency.

The Democratic primary for Comptroller, like other primaries for city government positions, will take place in June, with early voting June 12-20 and primary day June 22. Also running in the Democratic primary are Reshma Patel, Terri Liftin, and State Senator Kevin Parker.

For more on the Comptroller candidates, watch each talk with Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max about their resumes and priorities:

WATCH: 30 Minutes with the Candidates for New York City Comptroller

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: The State of the Mayoral Race with Under 7 Weeks To Go

7 weeks go

City Hall for an inauguration (photo: mayor's office)

May 5, 2021 - Max & Murphy Podcast: The State of the Mayoral Race with 7 Weeks To Go

With just under seven weeks until primary day, June 22, Max & Murphy dove into the state of the race for Mayor, joined by David Freedlander of New York Magazine on Scott Stringer's sexual misconduct scandal, then Sally Goldenberg of Politico New York on the larger landscape of the Democratic primary.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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