David Weprin talks money, politics on campaign trail
by Daniel Bush
Jul 22, 2009 | 2475 views | 0 0 comments | 62 62 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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By most measures Councilman David Weprin, the Council's Finance Committee chairman for the past eight years, would seem the logical choice for the city's fiscal watchdog office of comptroller.

Yet the race for comptroller is surprisingly competitive, featuring three other prominent City Council members.

In a recent poll to determine the candidates' citywide name recognition, Weprin turned up second behind fellow Queens Councilman John Liu, considered by insiders to be his strongest opponent, if not the outright frontrunner in the race.

In an interview, however, Weprin said his record speaks for itself.

"What distinguishes me clearly is my services and my background [in finance]" said Weprin, the only candidate with extensive experience in both the public and private finance sectors. "I don't think anyone has a service record that matches that."

Weprin, who speaks fluidly on issues of finance, dressed in a dark blue suit and tie on his first visit to his newly opened Brooklyn campaign office on Putnam Avenue in Fort Greene.

Weprin said he plans to open campaign offices in every borough - something he said his opponents have not committed to publicly - to familiarize New Yorkers with a citywide position few seem to really understand.

"I'm taking the office of the comptroller to the people," Weprin said.

If elected, he said he plans to keep his borough-wide offices open and use them as "consumer-friendly" community sites where residents can seek financial literacy training and learn more about predatory lending practices and other finance issues.

While providing financial support to New Yorkers neighborhood by neighborhood, Weprin said he would also focus on three large-scale priorities as comptroller: rooting out spending waste in city agencies; enforcing prevailing wage standards; and improving the city's struggling pension fund system.

Despite the difficult economic times, and falling city revenue, Weprin said the next comptroller can still find ways to cut wasteful spending. Likewise, he said prudent reform could improve the city pension fund system.

"There's been a lot of volatility in the stock market," Weprin said, causing the city's pension funds, which are heavily dependent on Wall Street, to drop from an all-time high of roughly $105 billion to current levels of around $80 billion. He said diversifying investment would lessen dependence on a struggling financial sector and secure long-term growth.

Weprin was selected by then-Governor Mario Cuomo to serve as the Deputy Superintendent of Banks for New York State in 1983, and has served on the New York State Banking Board and the New York City Tax Reform Task Force. He has also worked in the private sector financial services and banking industries.

In 2001, Weprin, who represents northeast Queens, was elected to the City Council. His colleagues promptly voted to appoint Weprin chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, a rare feat for a freshman council member.

Since then, Weprin said he has provided strong financial leadership while challenging Mayor Michael Bloomberg on a number of important issues, such as congestion pricing and the extension of term limits, both of which he opposed. Independent oversight is a key responsibility of the comptroller.

"I've stuck to my guns and that's why I feel like I'll be independent of the mayor," Weprin said.

Just two months remain before the Democratic primaries (all the candidates running to replace current Comptroller William Thompson, who is seeking the mayoralty, are Democrats. Besides Weprin and Liu, they are council members David Yassky and Melinda Katz).

Weprin acknowledged the race will be close, and said it appears likely there will be a runoff between himself and another candidate. He did not say who he thought that might be.

Liu told this paper he did not think that was a foregone conclusion. "There may or may not be a runoff," Liu said. "We have a ways to go."

Though he has racked up more endorsements than his opponents, Liu, like Weprin, said he would continue working hard right up to the mid-September primary.

"Our campaign is not sitting pretty," Liu said. "We're out there pressing the flesh."
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