New Yorkers are focused mainly on today’s mayoral primary. Far-left public advocate Bill DeBlasio leads a pack of five contenders who are trying to out-promise, out-tax, and out-spend each other, while expressing as much hostility to the NYPD as possible. In this race, amazingly enough, Anthony Weiner may be the real moderate. Had he not caught his brain in his zipper, he might have kept up his early lead.
Among Republicans, Joe Lhota, a former deputy mayor under the unparalleled Rudolph W. Giuliani, maintains a steady margin ahead of John Catsimatidis, a successful Greek immigrant with a Horatio Alger story. From a modest background in Harlem, he went on to make multi billions as an oil refiner and owner of the Gristedes grocery-store chain.
The next comptroller will oversee some $135 billion in pension assets for Gotham’s current and retired government employees. The most striking thing about this, the second biggest position on the ballot, is the Broadway-wide qualification gap that separates Republican newcomer John Burnett from his seasoned Democrat rivals. Burnett’s professional credentials strongly suggest that he can do this job. Disgraced former governor Eliot Spitzer and Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer seem bracingly devoid of the basic skills that one would expect in New York City’s chief money man.
Burnett, 43, holds an undergraduate degree from New York University in Leadership and Management. He went on to earn an MBA from Cornell University while working at Merrill Lynch and McGraw Hill Financial.
Burnett has received some serious professional credentials. He has held five financial-services industry licenses: Series 7, Series 9, Series 10, Series 63, and Series 65. As Burnett explains, “These are licenses for financial adviser, for portfolio management, state securities licensing, as well as the supervisory licenses to oversee financial advisors and portfolio managers.” He maintained these certificates until 2010; he had been working at McGraw Hill Financial since 2008 and no longer needed them.
Burnett used these licenses and his business training in previous positions. He has worked at Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, and other top-drawer financial houses.
“My job responsibility was to oversee teams to monitor the performance and investment allocations of financial advisers and portfolio managers,” he told me over Thai food on Lexington Avenue last Tuesday. “When we detected any questionable activities, we would send inquiries and often recommendations and suggestions to correct them.”
Burnett’s background and demeanor suggest that he would have some idea of how to execute the comptroller’s duties, or at least know where to begin.
Former governor Eliot Spitzer is notorious for patronizing prostitutes. This is rather hypocritical, given his prosecution of others who solicited hookers. These experiences would seem to have little bearing on his ability to function as comptroller. Spitzer was governor of New York for roughly 14 months. He then resigned rather suddenly in a sex-fueled disgrace. He previously was New York’s state attorney general and, earlier, an assistant district attorney in Manhattan. He graduated from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and earned a juris doctor from Harvard Law School. He has no evident experience as a financial-services professional.
Spitzer’s chief Democratic rival is Manhattan Borough president Scott Stringer. He has a B.A. in government studies from John Jay College. He, too, has no appreciable financial background.
Last July 19, Stringer’s campaign did tell Liz Benjamin of NYStateofPolitics.com:
As a fiduciary of the New York City Employee Retirement System for the last eight years, Scott has worked with his fellow trustees to grow the City’s pension funds through prudent investments, improving diversification and ensuring more rigorous assessment of risks to investments such as corporate accountability and violations of environmental regulations.
As a borough president, Stringer holds a seat on the NYCERS board. His time on it would be more impressive had he bothered to show up for even half of its gatherings. Of the 160 meetings that it held while he has been a member, Stringer only attended 15. With a 91 percent absence rate, Stringer would be wise to avoid saying that he has “worked” as a NYCERS trustee.
Also, Stringer has said that, if elected, he would recruit a chief investment officer to manage Gotham’s money.
Republican John Burnett finds this hilarious. He laughs, “Scott Stringer stating that he wants to hire a chief investment officer is like the president of the United States wanting to hire a commander-in-chief.”