Meet The Money Folks: Four Candidates, Four Days
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
Follow me on Twitter @QueensTribune
Monday was Melinda; Tuesday John Liu; Wednesday Weprin; and Thursday David Yassky. The four Comptroller candidates in four days – whew!
It was an intense week; it was fun. I enjoy political interviews. I’ve been a political junkie all my life. The exchanges were all good and the four – I’ve interviewed them all before – each handled themselves with the skill of a political pro. I wasn’t easy – they tell me I never am; I wasn’t over the top either.
What I did was to pose to each of the four pretty much the same series of questions so that we could provide our readers a comparison on some of the issues.
I asked almost all of the questions and Brian Rafferty, our editor, took most of the notes on the computer – occasionally chiming in when he felt something needed clarification. Elsewhere in this issue find Brian’s two-page feature comparing the candidates positions.
Here, I intend to share impression, the personal sense of how the four differ, perhaps, what makes them tick -- as Comptroller candidates -- and a bit of political analysis.
We’re not endorsing this week but will be relying heavily on these interviews for our endorsement.
Apparent throughout the four interviews: New York City has four competent Democratic candidates vying to succeed Bill Thompson.
To win the Democratic Primary one candidates will need 40% of the vote, an unlikely scenario in this field. Should no one get 40%, the top two candidates will face each other in a runoff.
Melinda Katz is different. She has the ability to be a single name candidate – like Hillary – and is the only woman in the race. Melinda is a single mom. Last year using in vitro fertilization, Melinda gave birth to her son Carter.
Melinda is the most cautious and calculated of the candidates. She is bright, thoughtful but monitors her words when responding to tough questions. She doesn’t make mistakes – often. She is politically savvy and understands the election process and innuendo as well as the consultants.
She acknowledges there will be a runoff and expects to be in it.
She is running on her experience and speaks of it as she clearly is the only qualified candidate. She cites her service and record in the State Assembly, City Council, as Director of Community Boards for Queens Beep Claire Shulman as well as a stint as a merger and acquisition attorney at Weil Gotshal, one of New York’s outstanding law firms, as the rationale as to why she is superior to the field.
She stands by her vote to change the people’s term limit law claiming she had to vote for the extension to be “true to herself.” Eight years earlier in our office when she was first running for Council, she stated unequivocally that she would never change term limits without going back to the people.
She, like all of her opponents, were deferential to New York’s powerful labor unions. She was the most adamant in opposing a Tier 5 pension change insisting that the financial benefits were too far in the future for the city and that any changes must come through collective bargaining.
Her solution to the possible pension shortfall: “the first order of business is to get the proper return on the money.” Her confidence that she would be able to invest the funds to get greater returns was echoed several times.
Melinda is the whole package: bright, attractive, charming, has shown the courage of becoming a single parent and reflects the needs and views of a majority of New Yorkers on most of the issues.
In this close field of four, the woman will likely make the runoff.
John Liu is the most aggressive the field. His extremely high energy level serves him well. He is driven, knowledgeable and convincing. He never seems to pause or slow down yet is on top of his subject. He would carry his energy into the job as a proactive Comptroller monitoring waste and fraud to provide, “The most bang for the buck.”
John appears to be the candidate who wants to do more with the office than has been done previously.
He regularly sends out Facebook posts “It’s Not Just About Numbers. It’s About People,” a slogan he wrote himself and truly represents his feeling.
He was aggressively out front fighting the Council’s self-serving term-limit extension.
He is critical of those who blame the workers and the unions for the Pension Fund woes pointing out it is a problem nationwide, in both the private and public sector.
“People are living longer,” he asserts, “and we haven’t changed any of the retirement ages – that’s something that should be collectively bargained.”
He points to his experience of 11 years as a financial manager for Price Waterhouse as the difference between himself and the others.
He has parlayed his working class story and has captured more labor support than the other candidates. He has the backing of the Working Families Party and to the surprise of some, the Queens County Democratic organization.
Dismissing the idea of a runoff, John declared, “Were going to win this thing outright. I will get 40 percent.”
Can a person of Asian descent win the election?
“I think Obama threw race out the window. I did my poll a few months ago – didn’t want to believe it – it had us significantly in the lead.” Other polls also show John in front at this point.
“I’m a Queens boy from day one. I’m a Flushing kid from day one. I’m representing everybody – I’m going to work for everybody - but I’m not going to take crap either.”
“[I am] fully confident I will bring an unprecedented level of professionalism to this office – I’ll do far better than Bill Thompson.”
John kept going with energy, ideas and an impressive sales pitch.
He had us pretty convinced – not that he’d win it all outright, but that he will be in the runoff and that John Liu is a force in this city and will be one for a long time to come.
Perhaps it was expectation; perhaps not. But David Weprin was much better than I thought he’d be. Professional, accomplished, knowledgeable and although he did not convey the passion that some of the others did, he did show he had heart: “The good part is getting out to all five boroughs, meeting different communities . . . if I can accomplish one thing it is to make the comptroller’s office more relevant to the people of New York. When you start explaining to people what it really does, they’re not clear.”
David Weprin is aware of the long path ahead of him but relies on his experience as making the difference: “My whole adult professional career has been for this job.”
His campaign analysis is likely accurate. A low turnout – Weprin says 300,000 to 440,000 people with only 100,000 needed to make the runoff. He’d rely on his direct mail and media campaign to get him there and then win the runoff with targeted audiences: “I do very well with seniors, older new Yorkers that respect somebody that has a financial background.”
A longtime District Leader and Democratic County Organization loyalist, he was dismissive of the significance of them choosing John Liu over him.
“I kinda saw it coming. . . [It] doesn’t impact at all . . . He’s [John Liu] been the major financial supporter of county for the last four years – that weighed heavily on their decision . . . I have a long history with the organization – I feel independent.”
He aggressively would utilize the powers of the office to eliminate waste.
He was out in front early opposing the Council change on term limits. He opposes a Tier V Pension fix as not addressing the short term problem. Negotiating with the unions, according to Weprin, is the way to address the problem and to continue to attract the best workers while we compete with neighboring Nassau County.
While he seemed to have the most traditional approach to the position of Comptroller, he is innovative. He is committed to opening five satellite offices, one in each of the five boroughs. The office would serve as a consumer community office and also address financial literacy and predatory lending. He would allocate existing budgets differently, requiring no additional funds for these offices.
David Weprin knows the job; he is complete focused on getting there and it seems that he has been for most of his career.
David Yassky is bright; he’s thoughtful and he’s a realist. David Yassky is also from Brooklyn.
Now that might not be an asset when talking to the Queens Tribune and its readers, but in a race where all the other candidates are from Queens, if we vote geographically in New York City, it may be a clear path to the run-off for David Yassky.
Articulate and quick, Yassky breaks the Comptroller’s job into three tasks: cut waste out of budget: help breed good business climate to bring jobs back to the city; and serve as the City’s chief accountability officer. Above and beyond that he explains every aspect of city policy is in the comptroller’s realm because the comptroller certifies the budget and that gives you a seat at the table on budget issues and contracts, enabling you to join in policy.
Yassky explains that the city is in the toughest spot it’s been in 70 years – it needs a comptroller determined to stand up to special interests. “What I’ve done in the council matches so perfectly with what we need in the city right now.”
While he believes he will do well in all parts of the City, because voters are smart and he claims he has “the strongest case to make for why I would be best comptroller,” he expects to carry Brooklyn and Manhattan.
“I think I have a good shot to win without a runoff.”
If there is a runoff, Yassky claims he could make a case for any of the other three being there with him.
Yassky differs with the other candidates and favors doing away with almost all Council member items; he also is the most open to Tier V Pension reform but wants it put on the table as part of negotiations.
During the Term Limits fight, Yassky first introduced an amendment to put Term Limits on the ballot for the people to decide and then disappointed the city reformers by voting in favor of the term limit change.
He explains his position: “I believe I voted for the better policy for the city.”
As comptroller, he claims his audits will go beyond the missing receipts and identify the parts of the budget not getting results.
Yassky is focused on winning and getting to work with the next Mayor.
“We can’t afford politics as usual – We need a comptroller dedicated to taking on special interests – keeping teachers in the classroom and cops on the streets.”
Pictured clockwise with Queens Tribune Publisher are Melinda Katz, John Liu, David Weprin and David Yassky.
Why Politicians Betray Our Trust
A public figure does have responsibilities beyond those to his family. He owes something to the people who worked for him, who set aside other opportunities to serve him. He owes honesty to the people who contributed to his campaign, and he has the further obligation not do anything to embarrass them. Last, but far from least, is his obligation to the public, to the people who elected him. They, and not the fatcats whose gifts come in envelopes without return addresses, are his clients.
So why do they do it? Why does official misconduct and abuse of office occur again and again? We know that much of it remains undiscovered, but the examples that have become public in the last several years have been enough to shake the voters’ confidence in public officials.
We offer four reasons – not excuses – for political corruption:
1. Opportunity. When people who hold office are offered money or services or freebies by other people who are their new friends, many accept. Some people are honest because there are no chances to be dishonest without committing embezzlement or larceny.
2. Where people are used to receiving privileges, cars and drivers, unverified expense accounts, exemption from traffic rules, etc., they begin to live in an atmosphere of entitlement. They gradually come to believe that they are different from regular people, and entitled to whatever they are given – by anyone.
3. There is some ambiguity in the universe of campaign contributions, and how they affect the behavior of the recipient. In addition to cash contributions, support can come in manpower (often contributed by trade unions), the use of telephone banks, the printing and distribution of campaign literature, or support from 527 political organizations that are theoretically independent but in reality symbiotic with a candidate’s campaign.
4. In part because of the long and wearying trail from accusation to incarceration, one cannot regard punishment as a certainty or even a probability. Even when a wrongdoer is caught and convicted, there is considerable sentiment that losing the office is sufficient penalty.
To sum up, when you are elected or appointed to high office, your world changes. People treat you differently. They remember you after they meet you. New friends appear. Old friends reappear. You hire people to help you, and those people have needs of their own. You find yourself in charge of an enterprise which you may not know how to manage. Your decisions mean a great deal, financially, to other people. They want to be helpful to you. “One hand washes the other.”
You also have political leaders telling you how to vote, and threatening you if you repeatedly fail to do as they ask. So you do.
Don’t forget your taxes, either. The Internal Revenue Service may be looking at you more closely now that you are a big name with a bigger income. And the campaign finance reports. You have to hire people to fill them out, and you are accountable for their errors. Not to mention the newspapers complaining about any little irregularity that snooping reporters may happen to find.
Sometimes you wonder why you went into this line of work. You are reassured that so many people like, respect, even admire you. The trappings of office befit you. Why, however, do you earn so much less than the lobbyists and the lawyers who are constantly asking you to do things for their clients? Is it not a great injustice that they can earn more a day than you do in a week? And they don’t have to go out to drafty halls making speeches to people who aren’t even listening. Why must you go to funerals of people you never met? Deliver eulogies to strangers. Doing this in bad weather, you could catch a terrible cold.
And on top of all these indignities, you have people down and even up the river making fun of you. They should be in your shoes.
As a matter of fact, at least one of them has.
Not4Publication.com by Dom Nunziato