Peabody award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
State Comproller Also Up For Grabs
Thursday, August 29, 2002
New York, NY —
Voters go to the polls in 12 days not only to select a Democratic candidate for Governor, but also a candidate for State Comptroller. The state comptroller is responsible for analyzing the budget, auditing state funds, and investing the states $120 billion pension fund. But as WNYC's Andrea Bernstein reports, this race is far, far below the radar.
Alan Hevesi is shaking hands at the Golden Age senior center in Laurelton Queens.
Senior: I've seen you before in Mr. Flake's, Floyd Flake's churchMan: that's right as a matter of fact floyd introduces me as the jewish liaison of the church
A lot of people have seen Alan Hevesi before. He's run 11 times for State Assembly, served two terms as city Comptroller, and ran once unsuccessfully for New York City Mayor. Senior citizens like Jean Monsanto recognize him, or think they do.
Bernstein: do you know what office you voted for him for? Jean Monsanto: Uh..comptroller..he was signing the checks, I can't remember.
Now Alan Hevesi is running for State comptroller, and voters like Nan Tucknowitz know they like him - although they're not sure why.
Nancy Tucknowitz: I vote for honest and good looking men. Bernstein: You think Alan Hevesi qualifies? Tucknowitz: Yes, yes.
But if voters have trouble remembering anything specific about Hevesi, his opponent, Bill Mulrow, draws a blank.
do you know the other guy who's running? Mcall? Yes? Anybody here ever heard the name Bill Mulrow? No. What? Have you heard the name bill mulrow? No
Bill Mulrow worked on Wall Street for 20 years, and though active behind the scenes as a Democratic party fundraiser, he's never run for office before.
Mulrow, who now lives in Westchester, likes to campaign near his boyhood home in Parkchester. Like Carl McCall, the candidate for Governor, Mulrow is trying to make his life story work for him.
I was born in county Galway ireland.
That's Ellen Mulrow, Bill's mother, in a radio commercial that's in heavy rotation.
Ellen Mulrow: My husband was a machinist. We worked hard. And I went to work as a waitress. We both became citizens in five years
Mulrow rose up from that background, going to Yale and Harvard on scholarship. After a brief intership for former governor Hugh Carey, he went to a career in Wall Street.
Bill Mulrow: the office I'm running for comptroller, its valuable you have experience outside of government you need to have independence some experience with financial markets, so I think my training actually ironically has better suited me for this office than if I'd stayed in government after graduate school.
Mulrow, a millionaire, has been travelling the state for almost two years, going to every county picnic and chicken dinner, trying to garner support. But for Alan Hevesi, the decision to run was much more recent. Queens senior center ambient.
I woke up in january after a pretty exciting and partly bumpy couple of years and the options were to go make money I was offered a big job with one big real estate company as a ceoand some very fine alternative jobs, but sitting in front of me was a vacancy for state comptroller for which I believe I'm perfect perfect, perfectly prepared
He is, Hevesi notes frequently, the only comptroller running for Comptroller.
Hevesi: you better have some experience in the global markets, you better have some experience as an auditor and as a contract manager and I guess when you have none of these experiences as my friend Bill Mulrow has, none of these experiences, you call for a fresh perspective.
well I don't think a lot of folks agree with him I mean we've had the upstate democrats met earlier in the year and voted for me.
A lot of labor unions are backing Mulrow. In addition to the state AFL-CIO, he has the public employee federations and the health care workers, to name a few. A lot of upstate and suburban county leaders are supporting Mulrow - as are a sophisticated coterie of consultants. Even Alan Hevesi says he understands Mulrow's appeal.
He's an attractive young man, don't misunderstand and he would have a been a terrific candidate for county legislature or state legislature that most people, they don't start in a statewide office...
I think its not for my opponent to figure out what office I should be running for, I really think at the end of the day it's the people involved in the process and voters ultimately.
For his part, Alan Hevesi has the backing of plenty of former colleagues from his days in elective office, and groups like gay and lesbians, and environmentalists who appreciate the fact he used the city pension funds to pressure corporations on social goals. But his support, like Mulrow's seems to have more to do with the ability to form alliances than sharp policy differences. If there are disagreements, they are mostly about the nuances of the office. Mulrow says, in these times, the state comptroller, presiding over 120 billion dollars in pension funds assets, has a particular responsibility.
Mulrow: So your voice is probably the largest in America when it comes to finanicial markets so its very important that you as the state comptroller be the chief advocate nationally
Alan Hevesi, wants to do more to promote economic development.
Hevesi: use the resources of office to create jobs, to bring businesses to market, the state to cut deals
The two men do disagree on whether the state comptroller should remain as sole trustee of the pension funds. Hevesi says there should be a board of trustees. But they both think the State's budget process is dysfunctional. Both say they'd be aggressive watchdogs over State funds. So instead of issue disagreements, the issue has become Alan Hevesi's record. The Mulrow campaign has been sending daily e-mails to reporters trying to tear apart Hevesi's years in government, saying, in essence, he lost money for the city's retirees.
Hevesi: No we didn't in a given period of time was there a loss here and did we lose money on enron and did this happen and that happen? Yeah. But when I was elected there was 49 billion in the pension funds and when I left office there was 82 billion in the fund.
Alan Hevesi isn't running any commercials yet - he's counting on his vastly larger name recognition in New York city to carry him over the finish line. And for his part, Mulrow is still trying to win a distracted electorate to his side, one by one .
Mulrow: So thanks again I really appreciate it, have a good lunch.
For WNYC, I'm Andrea Bernstein.