Q: and A:
New York State comptroller H. Carl McCall is in a tough spot. Following the resignation of Edward V. Regan, McCall was appointed comptroller in 1993 by the Democrat-controlled state legislature with the endorsement of Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, his running mate on the Democratic ticket this fall.
As he goes after a full term, McCall, a former state senator and New York City school board president, wants to convince voters that his ties to a Democratic governor and legislature aren't keeping hm from being an independent fiscal watchdog for the state.
But his Republican-Conservative opponent, Prof. Herbert London of New York University, says that mc Call is not suited to a job that demands independence. London points to Mc Call's firing of several state workers who produced audits critical of the comptroller's friend and fellow Democrat, former New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins.
Taking policy matters in hand, McCall is urging more meetings of the Financial Control Board to step up scrutiny of new York City's budget problems, a move applauded by many analysts. He did so after his office blistered Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani by pinpointing numerous holes in the Republican's fiscal 1995 budget and urging immediate corrective action.
In an interview with staff reporter Charles Gasparino, McCall discusses his achievements, his political future, and how he plans to convince voters that he
deserves another term.
Q: You recently came out with a report saying that New York City faces serious budget problems. Is the situation worse now than it was a year ago when Mayor David N. Dinkins was in office?
A: I don't want to make comparisons from one year to the other. I know that there is a problem this year, and we're trying to point that out. I think it's important that the city did not dispute our report, and I think, as I said in our report, [Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani] is really trying to address the problem. I guess the issue I would have is that the solution can't be done incrementally. We've got to look at the whole issue. And we've got to come up with more specifics than I think the mayor has provided to date in terms of how he plans to address the problem.
Q: Budget problems are nothing new for the city -- last year Standard & Poor's Corp. threatened a downgrade. People in the market are saying, "Why is McCall doing this now? Why didn't he call for same action when Dinkins was in office a year ago?"
A: I did.
Q: But you didn't call for extra control board hearings.
A: I haven't called for extra hearings. I said that the Financial Control Board could serve as a forum for a fuller discussion of the problems and hopefully provide some collective thinking about how to address them. That's not a hearing. That means that you've got the governor, you've got the two comptrollers, you've got some private citizens who've been watching this issue.
The control board meetings are kind of a pro forma thing, where everybody comes in with a prepared statement and they go.home. I think that it can play a better role.
Now why didn't I say this last year? Last year I went to my first control board meeting in August, and I assumed there would be other meetings. There was only one meeting since last August. So that's the difference. It's not that last year I was holding back."
Q: Have you specifically asked the governor for more control board discussions about the city budget?
A: Yes, I made a public statement at the last meeting saying we should meet. Indirectly, I got a reply from the governor that said having polled the members, that, yes, the members thought it was a good idea. As of yet, a meeting hasn't been scheduled, but the response I have received is that there is a willingness to do it.
Q: You have said that Herbert London, your Republican-Conservative challenger, has distorted your record. Do you take offense to some of the things he has said?
A: Oh no. Let me tell you my position about Herb London. I think this is a person who was never interested in being comptroller. He wanted to be governor. He became a candidate for comptroller as a result of a political deal that Sen. D'Amato and George Pataki [the Republican nominee for governor] put together. It was like a consolation prize.
Q: The polls have you guys about even right now, right?
A: I think the polls are pretty inconclusive because I don't ,think most people are focusing on this race. In a couple of weeks, we will do our first poll.
Q: Do you think the recent debt reform plan advocated by yourself and Gov. Cuomo is enough to strengthen the state's borrowing practices? Many analysts say it is actually weaker than an earlier plan.
A: I think debt reform was a major accomplishment this year. I think we got the legislature and the governor's support for a set of proposals that represent a marked improvement over what they [originally proposed in 1993].
Q: But the debt reform plan was weaker than what the governor proposed in early 1994.
A: Here's the thing.The bottom line is you've got to get the plan passed. It wasn't as tight as I wanted or the governor [wanted], but it was more than the legislature certainly wanted to do. We convinced them to do it, and the alternative was to do nothing.
So given the political pressures and the political process in Albany, I think that [the latest proposal is] a significant achievement. It would have been nice to do more, but I must tell you that we moved them a long way in terms of doing what they ultimately did.
Q: It needs to be voted on again.
A: That's right. The legislature will vote on [the debt reform plan] again, and it's my hope that they'll vote for what it is. I'd hate to see them tamper with it because I think if they did, they would only weaken it.
Q: You recently wrote to Mayor Giuliani because his deputy mayor, John Dyson, talked about knowing "a bid from a watermelon" in his dispute over whether the city should hire a financial advisory firm owned by a black woman, Patricia Garrison-Corbin. Why did you decide to get involved?
A: I think everybody felt that the comment was distasteful, and I thought it was important to comment on that. The mayor has a responsibility to try to bring about healing in the city. I think the mayor also has a responsibility to curb people who work for him who might be doing anything that would be divisive.
Q: Do you think there's some deeper problem in the Giuliani Administration with regard to its view of minorities ?
A: I don't know. The mayor still doesn't have anybody in a high position in his office who really represents the African-American community, and I think that's a serious omission. In the past all mayors have tried to have an administration that was representative.
Q: In terms of the issue of inclusion, Giuliani's finance staff believes mandated inclusionary policies can cost money, and they have vowed to do merit selections of bond underwriters and financial adviser. What do you think?
A: First of all, I don't think that there's a conflict between the idea of merit and inclusion. There are some very good people out there in the minority community who have something to offer. Therefore, an attempt should be made to bring them in.
The Pat Corbin issue was an example. Nobody has ever questioned this woman's credentials and her ability and her merit. You can never for the sake of affirmative action or inclusion, diminish your standards of quality. So to the degree that the city feels that minorities are only brought in just for the sake of inclusion, I think that's an unfortunate attitude.
Q: During a recent conference on state finances, you talked about the new curbs on contributions by bond dealers to candidates, like yourself, who also select firms to underwrite municipal bonds. You said the industry "caved in" to media and regulatory pressure.
A: [The municipal bond industry] sort of admitted that they were corrupt and said, "Okay, punish us." I thought that was sort of an overreaction, but what they have agreed to, they've agreed to. We'll all live by it.
Q: Do you think the political contribution rules hurt treasurers and government finance officials like yourself?
A: Let me say this. There's only one way to solve the problem of financing campaigns and giving the public a sense that there's no perception of any wrongdoing. It is to have publicly financed campaigns.
Q: Have you expressed your thoughts to Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Arthur Levitt Jr., who has advocated the restrictions ?
A: No, we [recently] met, but no. If I were to start talking about it, and complaining to him, it would appear to be self-serving, that I'm just concerned about Carl McCall being cut off from funds. It's a bigger issue than that.