The race for New York City comptroller, a job that includes managing the $145 billion New York City Retirement Systems, is a study in contrasts as well as similarities between Republican John Burnett and Democrat Scott Stringer.
Despite their different backgrounds, Mr. Burnett and Mr. Stringer cite many of the same goals. Both want to reduce costs, bring some investment management in-house and streamline the city pension system, which is composed of five separate pension funds with a total of 58 trustees among them.
“They all have five separate redundant costs,” said Mr. Burnett, a political novice trying to become the first GOP comptroller since Joseph McGoldrick held the job between 1938 and 1945. “I think we can get scale and also reduce some of the fees that we pay if we aggregate all of the pension funds. It makes sense. The challenge is execution.”
Mr. Burnett said he is mindful of the failed attempt in 2011 and 2012 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Comptroller John C. Liu to consolidate the five funds into a single unit and reduce the number of trustees. The plan needed approval from the state Legislature, and opposition from many city unions, some of whose members are pension trustees, sank the proposal (Both Messrs. Bloomberg and Liu leave office at the end of the year).
“Based on my conversation with some of the union presidents, it (opposition) was more so over style — how it was presented,” Mr. Burnett said. “It was presented as 'my way or the highway' and that's not a good way to enter into a negotiation.”
Mr. Burnett said he would like to reduce the number of trustees. “But if that's a sore spot, then we can keep the same number as long as we can reduce the cost and the bureaucracy,” he said.
Mr. Stringer opposes the idea of a single pension fund. “I will sit with the 58 trustees to discuss what we can do to better, align the boards to work more closely together, to reduce the cost of operating the five funds,” he said.
He has been a trustee of one of the city pension funds, the New York City Employees' Retirement System, since be he became Manhattan borough president in 2006. Before that job, he was a state assemblyman for 13 years.
“The comptroller can't walk in and bang the table and say this is my plan,” he added. “I think the mayor learned that the hard way. I will look at what we can do together. We want to be efficient. We want to reduce costs.”