HORNELL — On a swing through the Southern Tier, the race for New York State Comptroller got heated, with accusations of cronyism, inexperience and undue risk flying.
In an interview with The Spectator this week, Republican candidate Jonathan Trichter billed himself as an investment banker and public finance expert, and a good fit for the office of New York State Comptroller — a position occupied by Democrat Tom DiNapoli since 2007 following a legislative appointment and two consecutive re-elections to four-year terms.
Trichter's impressive history includes work at J.P. Morgan, the restructuring firm MAEVA Group LLC, as he served on underwriting teams for the largest municipal bond issuers in the country, and worked on the 2010 campaign of Harry Wilson for New York State Comptroller.
He was motivated to seek the office himself through that experience.
"I've come to appreciate how much good the office can do for ordinary New Yorkers," he said. "I was frustrated by how the office was underutilized by DiNapoli given his focus on politics at the expense at the core fiscal responsibilities that the office had to fix what was broken in Albany."
He accused DiNapoli of "politicizing" the office to push a progressive agenda and protect political allies, divesting pension funds from corporations he disagrees with, and leveraging the insurance and credit companies they do business with, according to the candidate.
"It's not his to do that with," he said. "I would run a politically neutral pension fund."
Additionally, Trichter says that DiNapoli has duped the public and media by repeating positive taglines like "The (pension) fund is consistently ranked among the best funded and most well managed pension systems in the country."
To refute the claim, Trichter has published several of his own whitepaper reports, available on his website, calling them "Under-performing."
"DiNapoli has under-performed his own pension expectations by over $65 billion," he said, saying that taxpayers have had to make put the difference. "By no measure is this a well managed fund."
Trichter stopped short of calling DiNapoli's actions illegal, more carefully choosing the word "amoral" as a descriptor instead.
So far, Trichter has convincingly captured the Republican nomination for the office, capitalizing on his experience with public pension restructuring. He cited cases in Puerto Rico and Illinois where pensions have threatened to ruin governments.
"It's a national problem at the state and local level," he said. "The economic crisis is inevitable. The public pension crisis will end in tears."
Trichter has worked with states like Rhode Island and the distressed government of Jacksonville, Fla. to restructure their pensions. New York State's fund is far larger, about $200 billion, managed by the comptroller.
"The person doing it now is a lifelong politician, who got the job by winning a popularity contest in Albany despite having no financial or investment experience," he accused.
Trichter believes that the pension fund is also over-exposed in hedge fund risk and over-equitized.
The Republican hopeful also promised better relationships with local governments in the Comptroller's oversight of municipalities during audits.
"Where I come from in the private sector, audits are a collaborative effort, where you help companies figure out best practices, find efficiencies and generate more value and deliver a better good for consumers, whereas this Comptroller is using audits in an adversarial way," he said.
Among his other priorities was a "top to bottom" audit of the state's Medicare and Medicaid System, the largest in the country that he says can be fixed "on day one" with the executive powers of the office; and end to backdoor borrowing that adds to public debt no matter who wins the governor's office.
Trichter has been backed by a local contingent of Republican allies, including Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R-Corning) and Steuben County Republican Chairman Joe Simpolinski, as well as Gubernatorial hopeful Marc Molinaro (R-Red Hook). He will appear on the Conservative and Republican Party lines in November's General Election.
Despite his critiques of the current executive administration in Albany, Trichter wouldn't call New York a "bad investment" choosing to be more far-sighted.
"We have some good long term assets," he said "One of them is water, and two, we have people and universities, three, we have the entertainment and tourism capacity in New York City as well as finance."
"We have challenges, but what we need is the right leaders to harness our resources for the long-term rather than exploit them for press conferences," he said. "Under the right leadership, I would be bullish on New York. Under the right leadership, fracking could be a significant economic boost for the Southern Tier. Under the wrong leadership it's banned."