Will New York comptroller candidates use the job to run mayor?

New York City comptroller candidate and Assembly Member David Weprin
New York City comptroller candidate and Assembly Member David Weprin
New York State Assembly
New York City comptroller candidate and Assembly Member David Weprin

Will New York comptroller candidates use the job to run mayor?

Career politician David Weprin wants to know.
April 28, 2021

New York City comptroller candidate and Assembly Member David Weprin wants to get his fellow candidates to pledge they won’t use the office as a steppingstone to run for mayor – the way the position has been used for decades.

But not everyone is happy with Weprin’s ploy, given his track record of running for the next higher office himself.

In the office’s recent history, virtually all New York City comptrollers have tried to use the seat as a springboard to Gracie Mansion. Only former comptroller Abraham Beame was successful in becoming mayor. City Comptroller Scott Stringer is a leading contender in the Democratic mayoral primary. His predecessor, state Sen. John Liu, ran for mayor unsuccessfully in 2013. Liu’s predecessor, former Comptroller Bill Thompson, lost by 4 percentage points to Michael Bloomberg in 2009. Thompson’s predecessor, former Comptroller Alan Hevesi, also unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2001.

Weprin’s pledge, first reported by the Daily News, asked the nine leading comptroller candidates to “never, under any circumstances, consider a campaign to run for Mayor of New York while in office.” He added, “No amount of personal ambition should ever come into play when charged with protecting a $247 billion pension fund that defines the golden years for people who rightfully earned them. The job is too big of a factor in the lives of nine million New Yorkrs to ever again make it a political bargaining chip.”

Weprin’s campaign told City & State that three candidates signed the pledge: City Council Member Brad Lander, Reshma Patel and Alex Pan, an 18-year-old college student.

But the campaign of Zach Iscol, who dropped out of the mayoral race to run for comptroller, shot back at Weprin’s pledge and criticized the Assembly member’s own political ambition. Without saying whether he would pledge to not run for mayor if elected comptroller, Iscol’s campaign manager Sam Rivers wrote in an email: “It’s ironic that after running for everything from City Council to Congress that David is concerned about other candidates’ political aspirations.”

Weprin was elected to the City Council District 23 seat in 2001 where he served until he ran unsuccessfully for comptroller in 2009. A year later, he won a special election for the Assembly District 24 seat to replace his brother Mark Weprin, who won his brother’s former City Council seat. In 2011, Weprin ran unsuccessfully for Congress in a special election to replace disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner after he resigned following his sexting scandal. And just months into his sixth term in the Assembly, Weprin is now campaigning for comptroller.

Weprin’s campaign said that the next comptroller would face “monumental” pandemic-induced job losses and a financial crisis, and would therefore need to be “100 percent focused on the job of protecting the city’s finances, not on their own political ambitions or running for higher office.”

While three candidates signed Weprin’s pledge and comptroller candidate Michelle Caruso-Cabrera vowed not to run for mayor if elected comptroller before Weprin’s pledge, two other candidates did not rule out running for mayor if elected comptroller: City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and candidate Terri Liftin.

Johnson was the presumed front-runner in the Democratic primary for mayor but dropped out of the race in September, citing mental health issues. He jumped into the comptroller’s race in March. Asked whether he planned to sign Weprin’s pledge to not run for mayor if elected comptroller, Johnson’s campaign only focused on his current plans. “Corey is running for Comptroller to help the city he loves recover and rebuild after an unprecedented crisis. He’s not running for mayor,” campaign spokesperson Avi Small wrote in an email. (Editor's note: Small contacted City & State after publication to say Johnson won't run for mayor if elected comptroller.)

Meanwhile, Liftin told City & State that she would only run for an office “if I am qualified,” without ruling out any future plans. “Right now I am the most qualified to be Comptroller,” she said.

Although state Sen. Brian Benjamin did not sign Weprin’s pledge, his spokesperson Marissa Coscia said he “has no intention of running for mayor.”

It is unclear whether state Sen. Kevin Parker would run for mayor if elected comptroller. His office did not return City & State’s request for comment.

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Sydney Kashiwagi
20210620