Among the statewide races, the contest for state comptroller often gets little attention from voters. But there’s still lots of interest in the post itself – incumbent Tom DiNapoli faces three challengers.
DiNapoli has twice won election to the post, but he was first appointed to the position by the state legislature in 2007, after the previous comptroller, Alan Hevesi, pleaded guilty to corruption charges.
The post remains relatively obscure to most voters, and DiNapoli is still unknown to most New Yorkers. But he received the most votes of any statewide elected official in the 2014 elections, and he avoided the Democratic primary challenges that occurred this year in the races for governor and attorney general.
DiNapoli says under his watch, the pension fund has grown, by $100 billion. He also says he’s been a “steady hand” in state government, and is independent, disagreeing even with the head of his party, Governor Andrew Cuomo, on occasion.
“I’m not a show boater, that’s not my style, and I don’t think this office should lend itself to people just going out of their way to try to prove something,” DiNapoli said. “I call the shots as I see them, and sometimes that is in agreement with what others are saying, sometimes it isn’t.”
His Republican opponent, Jonathan Trichter, disagrees with some of DiNapoli’s investment decisions. He thinks DiNapoli has invested too heavily in risky hedge fund and private equity fund portfolios. He says the Comptroller could have avoided billions of dollars in fees if he had just stuck to the market indexed funds.
“Had DiNapoli, the comptroller, as the sole trustee of the pension fund, simply invested passively in equity indexes like the S and P 500, he would have performed equal to the market and wound up paying very little in fees,” Trichter said. “And nothing to hedge fund managers.”
Trichter, a longtime investment banker, says he got interested in the state’s public pension fund when he covered the office’s investments for JP Morgan. He worked on the campaign of former Governor Eliot Spitzer, and he also helped on 2010 Republican candidate Harry Wilson’s campaign for comptroller. Trichter, who is still a registered Democrat, needed special permission under what’s known as the Wilson-Pakula Act to run on the Republican ticket. Polls show Trichter thirty points behind DiNapoli, but he says he’s undeterred.
“I’m going to put my best ideas forward,” said Trichter, who said he’s a “fiscal pragmatist” with the right skill set for the job.
“And then I’ll have to let the chips fall where they may,” Trichter said.
DiNapoli says Trichter is using selective data when he criticizes the costs and performance of the pension fund. He says Trichter looked at a ten-year period that includes the Great Recession, when every fund experienced a steep drop. And he says while some of the investments may include fees, the variety of investments is a plus.
“Our strength is our diversification,” DiNapoli said.
The Green Party candidate, Mark Dunlea, says he does not expect to win. He is focused on the issue of combatting climate change, and he wants the comptroller to divest the state from all investments in fossil fuel companies.
“Fossil fuel companies are no longer making money they used to make,” said Dunlea. “It’s not a long-term business plan if the world has said ‘we’re not using your product any longer.’”
DiNapoli disagrees, and says he can do more to change the behavior of fossil fuel companies by remaining a major investor, and he says he’s done that.
Republican candidate Trichter says he would “depoliticize” the fund, and not use it for social or political purposes.
There is also a Libertarian candidate in the race, Cruger Gallaudet, a former auditor for General Electric.
Gallaudet, along with the other candidates participated in a debate aired earlier this month on Manhattan’s public access cable network. He says he’s not a politician.
“What I would bring is a fresh pair of eyes,” said Gallaudet, who say he questions the size of the pension fund and the comptroller’s investment decisions.
“And also, who’s controlling the comptroller,” said Gallaudet. “He reports to no one.”
But Gallaudet somewhat undermined his candidacy, when he said later in the debate that “we all know” that DiNapoli is going to win the race.