Jonathan Trichter, the Republican nominee for New York state comptroller, is dissatisfied with the “New York status quo, one-party rule and the fact that the chief fiscal officer is entirely supportive and beholden to a broken fiscal status quo in Albany.” So he’s out to do the improbable: oust the incumbent, Thomas DiNapoli. A registered Democrat who has worked in finance for most of his career, Trichter describes himself as an “independent outsider” who will bring accountability to Albany. City & State spoke with Trichter about the improvements he wants to bring to the comptroller’s office and where he believes DiNapoli has fallen short.
Why are you running for comptroller as a Republican when you have been enrolled as a Democrat in the past?
I am a lifelong Democrat, but my background is in public finance and pension management. I’ve got a deep understanding and expertise in the skills that are perfectly suited for the comptroller’s office. I actually covered the comptroller’s office for JP Morgan as a public finance banker and that’s when I first came to realize the underappreciated and underutilized powers of the office to fix most of the vexing fiscal problems in New York state. Through a series of events, the Republican Party recognized my background was suited for the office and asked if I would run on their line and I was interested in it as well. They gave me a special dispensation known as a Wilson Pakula in order to run on their line – irrespective of my own Democratic Party registration. That is the first time the Republicans have done that in a statewide race since 1970. I feel proud of that and I think that it's because of my background, expertise, vision for the office, and the fact that I’m an independent outsider who would provide a check and balance on fiscal recklessness in Albany.
When exactly were you approached by the Republicans?
Well, it was more of a series of conversations. The Republicans were interested in finding a candidate and I was interested in being helpful. When everybody came to realize that I had the right background, passion, interest and ambition to take the office and help provide supervision to essentially children in Albany who are allowed to set their own allowance without much accountability – I think that started in early 2018, but I can't remember the precise dates.
You’ve said before that the office of the comptroller is nonpolitical. How so?
The comptroller is the chief fiscal officer of New York state and that shouldn’t be a political position. It should be nonpartisan and unbiased, and not beholden to any political constituency, but rather representing all New Yorkers and providing a check and balance and also accountability to Albany politicians, insiders and their fiscal practices. So there's really no room for politics in there. All of the different political issues that oftentimes divide us don’t impact, or really fall into the purview of, the comptroller. Unfortunately, the past two comptrollers were both creatures of Albany and Albany politicians to the core. The prior one, Alan Hevesi, wound up going to prison when he was comptroller. The current one was hand-selected by (then-Assembly Speaker) Shelly Silver and appointed by the Legislature over the objection of every editorial board in the state. … The job has a very specialized set of skills that are required to do it well and independently. This comptroller has none of those skills.
What do you think is wrong with the way Thomas DiNapoli is doing his job?
Everything. So, starting with the pension management: He’s the sole trustee with a $200 billion pension fund and he has misrepresented his performance and also underperformed. He’s underperformed – in terms of the investment – his own expectations by $55 billion over 11 years and he has replenished that investment shortfall via taxpayer dollars. New York state is among the most heavily taxed states in the nation. At the local level, the two driving factors are Medicaid and pension expenses. Those pension expense are directly attributable to the comptroller. One of the reasons why we’re taxed so heavily at the state and local level is due to pension underperformance. In addition to that, he’s misrepresented the returns on the assets that he’s invested for pensioners and New Yorkers by saying that the fund is among the most well-managed in the country. In fact, the pension fund has underperformed the median of other large public pension funds. That’s something that he’s absolutely misrepresented and been dishonest about. In terms of being a prudent steward of the pension system, he has utterly failed as an investor.
In your campaign, you’ve also tied DiNapoli to the MTA’s fiscal problems. Can you explain that?
One of the strongest roles of the comptroller is that he has broad authority to audit any state agency program or public authority. He audited the MTA 61 times, but he’s never audited the big-ticket items that we know now are the fundamental problems with the subway infrastructure. He never audited until very, very recently the signal infrastructure at the MTA. He never audited the fact that money from the capital budget was shifted, under Cuomo, away from state of good repair projects and away from infrastructure maintenance and into the megaprojects that Cuomo favored due to the fact that they make splashy headlines. He also never found and never has audited the fact that labor costs are driving up the costs of public works projects. Instead what DiNapoli’s done with the 61 audits is, he’s audited things like recycling practices. He also did another audit on the cleaning materials at the MTA and whether or not they were environmentally friendly. He did an audit on the Transit Museum. What we have is a total failure, and the guy’s been absolutely asleep at the switch when it comes to the MTA crisis. He absolutely failed to detect any of the problems that were coming.
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