Comptrolling Albany: DiNapoli vs. Wilson

Monday, October 11, 2010

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and candidate Harry Wilson Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and candidate Harry Wilson

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country we bring you the unmissable quotes from political conversations on WNYC. On today's Brian Lehrer Show, comptroller candidates Thomas DiNapoli (D) and Harry Wilson (R, C) faced off over experience, values and the role of the comptroller in state government.

Current New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli repeatedly stressed his opponent Harry Wilson's Wall Street career, trying to capitalize on anger at the finance industry.

"The hedge fund world is the least transparent, least regulated of all the financial services sector, and I would suggest the kind of risky behavior that that part of our financial world is known for had a lot to do with the meltdown that we are still paying the price for. Just making a lot of money on Wall Street is not a qualification for being a good comptroller," DiNapoli said.

Having profited from investments in subprime mortgages, Wilson has a "different set of values" than most New Yorkers, he said.

DiNapoli waved off the suggestion that having a finance or accounting background is important for the job of comptroller, arguing that while managing the public employee pension fund is an important part of the job, the office has other responsibilities.

The comptroller needs to make sure that contracts are being paid, payroll is being handled, audits are being completed, unclaimed funds are being handled, the oil spill fund is being administered, and the pension fund is being invested and benefits paid out, DiNapoli said.

He trumpeted the office's role as chief auditor, saying he'd made examining the books at the MTA and the state's Medicaid payments a priority. He audited every school district in the state, he said.

Audits shouldn't be motivated by political ideology, DiNapoli said, but should focus on areas of greatest potential impact, taking a close look at areas where the bulk of taxpayer money is spent.

Vigilance and transparency are the lessons to be learned from the fall of former Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who plead guilty last week to pay-to-play charges involving how investment contracts for the pension funds were awarded, DiNapoli said. DiNapoli was appointed comptroller by the state senate after Hevesi resigned in 2007 amid a different scandal. Once in office, DiNapoli banned the use of placement agents, middle men who lobbied the Comptroller's Office on behalf of investment funds.

"The public needs to look carefully at who the candidates for comptroller are. And the comptroller who is serving needs to be sure that there's appropriate checks and balances and transparency to make sure that something like that could never happen again," he said. 

Harry Wilson painted his opponent as a political appointee and someone who would use the post for political ends, not as professional financial manager for the state.

Wilson defended his career on Wall Street by saying he invested in companies, which is what the comptroller does with the pension funds, and that his role with the Obama administration in the bailout of General Motors was "the most successful turnaround in American history." His finance background is an asset for a state struggling with a budget crisis, he said.

"I worked to restructure broken companies, which is why I am running for New York State comproller — to help restructure the broken operations of New York State," he said.

Wilson volunteered to work on the General Motors bailout out of patriotism, he said.

"I felt that we needed more people of talent in public life, that I had a really deep skill set to offer and I felt it was important to do that and I felt my country was more important than my party...I really just focused on the fact that we had these very deep needs and I felt I could make a difference," Wilson said. Taxpayers are on track to win back their investment in Detroit, he said.

Responding to criticism from DiNapoli that he opposed the Obama administration's financial reform bill, Wilson said he was against the bill because it "stymied" parts of the financial sector without going far enough to address root causes of the financial collapse.

The bill failed to adequately confront reckless debt-to-equity requirements, didn't address Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's role in the secondary mortgage market, and then did nothing to correct the lack of responsibility evidenced by rating agencies and investment banks, Wilson said.

DiNapoli's attacks against him show the current comptroller doesn't understand the financial system, Wilson said.

"He politicizes everything without dealing with substance," he said of DiNapoli. "I would argue there is a professional way and a political way and Mr. DiNapoli's entire approach in the last three and a half years is a political way because he spent 24 years as a politician in Albany," Wilson said.

Wilson said audits need to focus on the biggest areas of state spending, starting with Medicaid — particularly, reimbursements to facilities for long-term care.

He criticized DiNapoli for not investigating Medicaid and other expenses more aggressively.

Wilson would use the office to identify and recommend particular spending cuts for state agencies and programs, a departure from how the office is now used, he said. DiNapioli called this plan beyond the constitutional role of the office. A comptroller as pruner is just what the state needs, Wilson said.

"I think the fact that this state has shown a complete inability in any level of government to demonstrate the ability to identify improvements in fiscal operations, I think that is sorely needed in Albany."

Wilson did not endorse Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, or any other candidate for statewide office.

Discussing the pay-to-play scandal that Hevesi plead guilty to last week, Wilson questioned why it took DiNapoli two years to ban placement agents from the office and said he would also ban trial attorneys from doing business with the comptroller.

Listen to the entire conversation on The Brian Lehrer Show.


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Comments [2]

Charmian Neary from Westchester County

I have to agree with Mr. Smith. I'm a Democrat too, but after voting for Andrew Cuomo I will vote for Harry Wilson on the Independence line on the ballot.
Many of us are concerned, and rightly so, about the partisanship that has caused gridlock in DC and in Albany, yet when a rare candidate steps up who walks the walk by demonstrating he is willing to work across party lines, we don't give him the consideration he deserves due to an understandable reflexive reaction to the R next to his name.
Having met Harry Wilson, and feeling no small amount of pride that he's from my part of upstate New York, I am enthusiastic about his candidacy. I've had friends ask me how I can support a Republican and to illustrate their point they rattle off the worst elements of the party (and there are so many from which to choose), as if Wilson is responsible for the others' behavior. I could answer back with the abusers,the walking time bombs, the rapists, the thugs, the thieves and the morons among the Democrats, but that doesn't get us where we need to be as a state.
If voters just listen to Harry Wilson, with an open mind, and disregard the appallingly hypocritical rhetoric from DiNapoli's camp,
the choice could not be more clear.
When you are told "he's from Wall Street" remember, no, he's from Johnstown, in Fulton County, and therefore understands the apprehension many small cities upstate feel. He is an American success story and should be admired for leaving his job in the financial sector to enter public service.
The financial sector, by the way, employs 300,000 people in New York. Despite DiNapoli's relentless bashing, employed people paying taxes are good for our economy.
That Tom DiNapoli is a nice guy is not the issue. Harry Wilson is a nice guy too, a really nice guy. The power play that ended up with DiNapoli being appointed to an office for which he was found not qualified is the kind of disgusting politics that has made Albany a national disgrace. Voting for Tom DiNapoli condones it, and I want no part of it.
Reform is long overdue in Albany, and with so few primaries, we are going to send too many of the clowns back on November 2. We have to start somewhere to change the corrupt, gerrymandered system, and voting for Harry Wilson is a great way to begin.

Oct. 12 2010 10:36 AM
Mark Victor Smith from Astoria, NYC

For the first time in many years, I will be voting for a Republican — this time for Harry Wilson as the Comptroller of New York State. I am a dedicated, unrepentant bleeding-heart liberal, but I thoroughly understand that compassionate government cannot function if it is not a fiscally responsible one.

I listened to Mr. DiNapoli's and Mr. Wilson's interviews, and I found Mr. Wilson's responses to questions much more intelligent, coherent, and comprehensive. Standing out most to me is his plan to suggest policy changes to the legislature; that could very well result in better use of revenues. It seems to me that this advisory function is a power granted to the Comptroller by the New York constitution that has been ignored and/or subverted by the Big Boys' Democratic Club (or Republican, depending on the Boys in Power at the time) in Albany. Using this power, as I believe Mr. Wilson will, can knock these boys down a couple of notches or, just maybe, off their ivory perches.

When a moderate and pragmatic Republican like this comes along and the office suits this sort of mindset, we need to elect that person and support them in office. Mr. Wilson is perfectly suited for this office, His successful experience in investment prepares him well for managing the pension fund and other dedicated funds owned by New York State. His moderate political views are in the tradition of a Rockefeller or Lindsay. His plans for fiscal management of the state are right on the money. (A Republican saying that the new national financial reform legislation does not go far enough to address core issues??? WOW!!)

The result from having a Comptroller like Harry Wilson in office will be an office that is tightly run, transparent, and positively engaged in solving Albany's serious fiscal problems. By focusing the powers that will be on more sane use of our tax dollars, Mr. Wilson will be a major part of a solution to our state's fiscal woes.

Oct. 12 2010 02:29 AM

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