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Let’s Meet…. David Weprin
David Weprin is a long-time Democratic member of the New York State Assembly and former New York City Councilmember currently running for New York City Comptroller, attempting to replace Scott Stringer, who is term-limited and running for mayor. The Comptroller is the city’s fiscal watchdog and chief fiduciary of a $250 billion public pension fund. The Comptroller is also responsible for auditing city agencies, reviewing city contracts, providing oversight of the city budget, debt, and finances, and enforcing prevailing and living wage laws, among other duties. The Comptroller manages a staff of about 800, including accountants, investigators, economists, engineers, investment analysts, attorneys, policy experts, and more.

Can you share with our readers a little bit about your background?
I am a lawyer by training who has the most financial experience of all the candidates running. Since 2011, I have represented the 24th Assembly District in Queens and, prior to that, I served on the City Council for eight years, where I chaired the finance committee. My training really started when I was 26 years old and was appointed Deputy Superintendent of Banks and Secretary of the Banking Board of New York, where I oversaw all of the financial firms in the state. Afterwards, I returned to the private sector, working in public finance, helping local governments raise the capital necessary for critical projects such as infrastructure, healthcare, and education, and served as Chair of the Securities Industry Association of New York.

What makes you most qualified for this job?
I have dealt with two major fiscal crises, which would adequately prepare me to be City Comptroller: the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, and then again during the financial recession of 2008 and 2009. Even with aid from Washington this time around, we are anticipating a multi-billion-dollar deficit for the next four or five years. There was too much stimulus money being dished out and we need to keep more in reserves. Business is not back to normal and I have a plan to get it back on track.

The next comptroller may inherit one of the toughest fiscal situations the city has faced in decades, with an expected $5.25 billion budget gap for the next fiscal year. How do you intend to get the city back to a fiscal recovery?
We must help small businesses – they are the key and backbone of this city. During the pandemic, I have been adamant about keeping restaurants opened, at least partially. Small businesses need help with tax revenue. I also want to create a commission for red-tape reduction. Small businesses are faced with mounting fines and regulations, which are harming them.
We also must work on getting our tourism back on track, and that can only happen with cleaning up public transportation and also improving public safety.

Speaking of public safety, what is your position on defunding the policy?
I am against it. I propose we increase the NYPD headcount. It is only through safer streets and safer subways that we can increase tourism and bring more revenue to New York. I am proud to say that I am endorsed by all the police unions, including the Detectives’ Endowment Association, the Sergeants Benevolent Association, the Lieutenants Benevolent Association, and the Captains Endowment Association. I also expect to be endorsed by the Police Benevolent Association and the Auxiliary Police Benevolent Association in the coming days.

What is your position on yeshivah funding?
I am an observant Jew. I attended yeshivah and so did my children. I fully support the schools. Think about it, if we took all the kids out of yeshivah and parochial schools, the public school system would implode; they could not handle it. Parents who enroll their kids in yeshivah and they still pay property tax to support the public school, therefore they deserve to be supported as well. I fought for yeshiva funding in Albany. I support the Education Income Tax Credit. We must increase aid to yeshivos; they are expensive, and the parents deserve relief, especially since – as I already stated – they are paying into it with taxes.

What’s it like to be an Orthodox Jew in New York City politics?
I represent a very diverse district with a population of Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and other groups. I am fortunate to be able to work for this great country and I am proud to represent my heritage. I work hard to make sure everyone is treated with equality and respect. I passed legislation to assure this: The Religious Garb Law, which assures that anybody can go to work wearing their religious attire and display facial hair (for religious reasons) without persecution.

Speaking of facial hair, I noticed you no longer sport your trademark mustache. Why the change?
My wife has been talking to me about getting rid of the mustache for years. Last year, we were all quarantining and spent so much time together in the house, so I figured it was time. A lot of people don’t recognize me now without the mustache. It was time for a change anyways.

What do you plan on doing differently than former NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer?
Scott has done a great job as comptroller. I would expand on what he did by increasing the audits of city agencies to ensure full transparency and accountability. Currently, they are only audited once every four years under the city charter. I would like to increase the audit department and have them audited annually. The audit division is the largest, with 150 employees, and I would like to see that grow. New York City’s outside contracting budget makes up about 19 percent of the city’s overall budget and they need to be adequately audited. There’s room to make cuts.
Stringer was very good with community outreach and I plan on reaching out to all the ethnic communities and hearing about their unique needs and seeing how they can be addressed. I also want to open satellite offices in all five boroughs.

How will you protect city worker pensions?
I take this fiduciary obligation very seriously. It is the key reason why I am running for Comptroller. We have $250 billion in pension funds and we need to diversify its portfolio further. We should be exploring various entities and expanding some of the private equity funds and hedge funds so we can get the best returns on your assets. The city cannot take pension funds and use them for its own political agenda.

How is this campaign being run differently than your 2009 run?
I have 12 more years of city and state legislative experience, now serving as a Chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Corrections. I have seen how both state and local government works and how it doesn’t. I want to take my years of experience in the public sector, combined with my experience in the private sector and use it to help all New Yorkers.

What can be done about affordable housing?
I will build more affordable housing by using the city’s $229 billion investment portfolio to partner with the private sector. I would incentivize the construction of affordable housing that would otherwise be unprofitable to build. We spend billions of dollars on homeless shelters and putting those experiencing homelessness in hotels, and this is not working. We need to invest in permanent housing. City employees, like police officers and firefighters, cannot afford to live where they work, which is why I will use Economically Targeted Investments to invest in low and middle class housing. Using our $250 billion pension funds, we can partner with the private sector to incentivize middle-class affordable housing construction, creating much needed housing, thousands of jobs, and a strong rate of return on the city’s investment. Guaranteeing the financial health of this affordable housing construction will unleash untold potential, allowing the city to build the affordable housing we need across the five boroughs. There is no reason why any firefighter, police officer, teacher, retail worker or any New Yorker who works hard and contributes to the wellbeing of our communities should be priced out of our great city.

What about the homeless population?
We need better mental health outreach and services do tackle some underlying issues there. If we don’t, it will just be a revolving door.

How will you help nonprofits?
Nonprofits contracted by the city to provide human and social services have long complained about the city’s bureaucratic hurdles that prevent their contracts from being registered and paid on time. There is money laid out, but it takes a year for the nonprofits to be able to get them. I want to make it so they will only have to wait 30 days to get the funds. The process needs to be streamlined. The City needs to stop delaying the process so they can save money.

You are a big proponent of auditing the MTA. How else can you make them more accountable?
The MTA is a state authority but, with a bully pulpit, I can assert more pressure on its management. It received $6 billion from Washington, but what are they doing with it? How are they spending the stimulus money? They promote congestion pricing, which is something I am against because it wouldn’t reduce congestion, nor would it get them out of their never-ending financial crises.

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