New York, NY —Carl McCall's decision to challenge governor George Pataki means there's an open seat for the job of State Comptroller. Two candidates are vying for the post - Republican State Assemblyman John Faso and former City Comptroller Alan Hevesi.
The state controller is responsible for auditing government agencies and managing one of the nation's largest pension funds. For Republican candidate John Faso, the controller is also the taxpayer's watchdog.
FASO: It's there to protect our pension funds. There to protect our families. Make sure the tax dollars aren't wasted. One of the reasons why I think I'm best qualified is because I have a consistent record of being fiscally responsible.
As an Assemblyman from Columbia County, upstate, Faso is considered one of the most fiscally conservative lawmakers in the legislature. He's consistently earned high marks from the taxpayer rights group Change New York for his votes to cut taxes and state spending. As Controller, Faso says he would push for changes to make the state more efficient.
FASO: I've got a plan for ending the annual budget impasse in Albany that hurts our school districts and our local governments and our not for profit organizations. I've got a proposal for dealing with making sure we have the funds necessary to fund infrastructure projects for transportation, our schools and our parks.
Faso says these reforms are especially needed, now that the state is facing a multi-billion dollar shortfall. And with all the corporate scandals that have also hurt the economy, he says the Controller's leverage over the 100 billion dollar pension fund can help force corporations to adopt better accounting practices.
Faso has little name recognition downstate. He's trying to overcome that now with television ads featuring former mayor Rudolph Giuliani. But he's running against a Democrat who's already held a similar post: Alan Hevesi, the former controller of New York City.
HEVESI: The truth is John has never managed an agency, not an OTB parlor, not a private government agency, he has no other career other than legislature. Never managed pension funds. His next audit will be his first.
Hevesi - who also ran for mayor last year - says he's done many of the things Faso talks about. He also sees another way to jumpstart the state's economy. As sole trustee of the state's pension fund, Hevesi says the controller can promote development through targeted investments. Something he did as City Controller.
HEVESI: We invested in malls, in small businesses, we invested in daycare centers, domestic violence - 350,000 square feet - we built domestic violence shelters. And they were very good investments because it not only grew the funds - which is our primary job - but we could also help people and create jobs and economic development.
But Faso says Hevesi's experience also has its drawbacks.
FASO AD: Alan who? As NYC controller, Alan Hevesi handed crony contributors millions in pension fund contracts. And while he was running for mayor the pension fund lost 8 billion dollars.
Faso's ads accuse the former city controller of abusing his position. Hevesi says the Republican is raising old allegations from last year's mayoral race that were never proven. As controller, Hevesi did try to invest city pensions in two funds run by his contributors. But he says that decision was supported by an independent advisor. He also says city's pension funds only lost money at the very end, when the economy declined.
HEVESI The city's fund did not perform as well as the state's. But we went from 49 billion dollars to 82 billion dollars. Few funds did that. We were at least in the top third for most of the time and in the top tenth.
Hevesi also has plenty to say about the record of his Republican opponent. He says the Assemblyman is far to the right of most voters.
HEVESI: He's anti choice, he's voted against pay equity for women, he's voted against increases in minimum wage, he's voted against gun locks, he's voted against he assault weapons ban.
And he says those views could potentially influence the auditing of contracts with groups like Planned Parenthood, for example. But assemblyman Faso calls that suggestion outrageous.
FASO: My responsibility as controller is to make sure that expenditures as they're appropriated by the legislature and approved by governor are made in a way that's consistent with law.
Polls have shown Faso trailing Hevesi. But with two weeks to go, the candidates are evenly matched financially and say they have enough money to get their message to the voters. For WNYC I'm Beth Fertig.