Selecting a Comptroller:
Politicians Strive to Fill
 Vacancy They Created By
 Feeding Hevesi to Wolves

Henry J. Stern
January 19, 2007

 
For the last month we have focused on Albany, where regime change took place on January 1, described by the victors as Day One, Everything Changes.  Today is Day 19, and there have been many personnel changes, as can be expected, and the adoption of a commendable new ethics code by the governor. There is still, however, much left to change.
 
The legislature, which normally hibernates during the coldest months, is awaiting the governor's budget, due January 31, and the special election for a state senate seat in Nassau County on February 6.  That vacancy was created, as you may know, when Governor Spitzer plucked Senator Michael Balboni from Senate Majority Leader Bruno's diminishing majority to become deputy secretary to the governor for homeland security.  The outcome in Nassau will determine whether the senate will be 34-28 or 33-29 Republican.
 
The immediate task the 212 legislators will face in February is the choice of a new state comptroller, to replace Alan Hevesi, who was run out of office and prosecuted for a felony by the Albany County District Attorney.  This took place a month after he was re-elected by the voters, many of whom were aware of his widely-publicized wrongdoing having his state driver care for his grievously ailing and suicidal wife.  Hevesi has since repaid the state about $280,000 

We cannot judge the Hevesi case definitively because there may be facts of which we are unaware. But on the basis of what has been published, we believe that the punishment is disproportionately severe for the offense.  The New York State Constitution provides that elected officials who commit misconduct with regard to their offices should be subject to punishment or impeachment by the Senate, on charges preferred by the Governor.  They should not be at the mercy of ambitious local district attorneys, who have the power to criminalize any errors or misjudgments public officials may have made before, during or after their term of office. That is not to say Hevesi should not be punished, but the penalty should be for the state senate to determine, not a person who is but one of the 62 county prosecutors in New York State.

The Independent Screening Panel that was created by the Three Men in a Room to screen candidates for comptroller consists of another Three Men, former City Comptroller Jay Goldin and two former State Comptrollers Carl McCall and Ned Regan.  The name of one former state comptroller appears to have been omitted.  A former city comptroller, Elizabeth Holtzman, was also passed over for the screening panel, but since there are no known women applicants except Martha Stark, city finance commissioner, who was listed last, gender may have been deemed irrelevant.  Now the Assembly, in the person of Speaker Sheldon Silver and those he chooses to consult, will select the new Comptroller, despite the figleaf committee of worthies agreed to by current triumvirs Spitzer, Bruno and Sliver.  The speaker may come under pressure from the people who elected him speaker (the Democratic caucus in the Assembly) to select one of their colleagues.
 
The last time the Assembly selected a state comptroller was 1993, when Republican Ned Regan resigned.  Former state senator and city council president Carol Bellamy was an early favorite, but Silver yielded to pressure from then-governor Mario Cuomo to select Carl McCall, who had served several terms in the state senate, and was currently working for Citibank.  

McCall and been Cuomo's running mate in 1982 as the candidate for lieutenant governor, but although Cuomo defeated Ed Koch for governor, Al DelBello, Westchester County Executive who was Koch's running mate, beat McCall for the No. 2 spot..  The Cuomo-Del Bello slate was not balanced, but they defeated Lewis Lehrman of Rite Aid.

DelBello subsequently resigned as lieutenant governor because he found that he had nothing to do.  The position remained unfilled until the 1986 election, when upstate Congressman Stanley Lundine was given the nomination to run with Cuomo.  Lundine hoped that Cuomo would be elected President, or be appointed to the Supreme Court, or retire and that he would become governor.  None of these eventualities occurred, Cuomo was defeated for re-election by George Pataki in 1994, and Lundine went down with the ship.
 
With the latest turn of the wheel, Sheldon Silver is poised to designate a new Comptroller. To his credit, Silver  did not join the lynch mob that raged against Hevesi, nor did he disinvite him from semi-official functions.  He acted properly, reserving judgment until the Albany District Attorney made it clear the end was near.

Originally Governor Spitzer was said to have viewed the Hevesi vacancy as an opportunity to attract a top-flight chief financial officer from the private sector who could bring a higher level of professionalism, impartiality and judgment to the office of comptroller.   As the sole trustee of pension funds whose assets exceed 140 billion dollars, the New York State comptroller is a very powerful official. 
 
Several leaders in the financial community, including Sallie Krawcheck, CFO of Citigroup, who is considered a symbol of corporate integrity, were said to have been sounded out, and they declined to be considered.  The salary of the state comptroller is $151,692, which is chump change on Wall Street. 
 
For those of you who wanted to be Comptroller, the Assembly website carries instructions on how to apply.  The deadline for applications was noon today. Sorry if you relied on us to let you know about it.
 
A list of applicants floated around this afternoon, first in the Daily Politics blog, sponsored by the Daily News and posted by their Albany correspondent, Bill Hammond.   A reader of the Politicker, which is the New York Observer blog, posted the Daily Politics list on the Politicker blog. Both blogs were founded by Ben Smith, who in the last few years has moved from the New York Sun to the Observer to the Daily News and now, to a Washington, DC media outlet named The Politico, which is supposed to premier on January 23. Wait ‘til Tuesday.
 
Interviews for State Comptroller will be held January 23, and candidates will be allowed l5 minutes for an oral presentation.  The process will be televised, and the applicants will be questioned by members of Screening Panel and the Fiscal Committees of the Senate and the Assembly.  BTW, just like in Washington, DC, in the State Senate it is the Finance Committee and in the Assembly it is the Committee on Ways and Means.
 
How legitimate the process is depends in part on whether the outcome has already been determined.  It would appear that, in this configuration, a sitting assemblymember has an inside track.  But since five of the 19 named candidates are assembly members, at best four will have to be disappointed.   We cannot handicap the nominees, nor would we want to.  But we offer Rule 10-I "Ins like ins".


The list of candidates for state comptroller, as provided by the state Senate, in no particular order, published today on various blogs. 
Tom DiNapoli, Nassau assemblyman
Richard Brodsky, Westchester assemblyman
Andrew Eristoff, former state taxation & finance commissioner
Andrew SanFilippo, Buffalo city controller
Joe Morelle, Rochester assemblyman
George Nadel, former CEO, Trans World
Felix Ortiz, Brooklyn assemblyman
Robert Hoffman, former tax auditor, state Department of Taxation & Finance
Howard Weitzman, Nassau County controller
Arthur S. Bechhoefer, financial adviser and administrator*
Marty Conner, Brooklyn state senator
William Mulrow, director, CitiGroup Global Capital Markets
James Larocca, chairman, Long Island Regional Planning Board
David Hancox, director of state audits auditors, state Controller's Office
Alphonse Fletcher, CEO, Fletcher Asset Management
Philip LaTessa, Syracuse city auditor
Alexander (Pete) Grannis, Manhattan assemblyman
Peter Joseph, managing director, Palladium Equity Partners
Martha Stark, New York City finance commissioner
*application may not have been filed properly


 

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Henry J. Stern starquest@nycivic.org
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