NYS Comptroller Race:
Alan Hevesi, Professor or Politician?
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
I’ve known him for ages, it was last week’s sit-down when I first
realized the difference between Alan Hevesi and most top-of-the-game,
aspiring public officials.
the end of our hour-and-a-half long chat, I asked, “Alan, give me a 30
second sound bite as to why our readers should vote for you.”
not good at sound bites,” he responded and then explained in about 30
seconds that: “The job of comptroller is critically important to all
New Yorkers. It’s a huge responsibility and you need someone with the
experience to do that job. It’s too important a job to leave to
someone without the expertise.”
when asked to address the effect of term limits or the real impact of
increasing taxes, Professor Hevesi steps forward.
He speaks analytically, with authority. He reverts to examples,
reinforces and comes back to recap. He is lecturing and teaching — and
that’s when Alan is at his best. He’s thoughtful and cautious. He
turns the interview into a classroom — at least he tries to.
don’t think it is a contrived effort to avoid dealing with rapid-fire,
difficult questions. It is the environment in which Alan functions most
effectively. To him, government is the social scientist’s laboratory
and his scholarly approach is antithetical to what most voters and we
journalists look for to answer our questions.
Hevesi does not necessarily create for us exciting and compelling copy.
He does however convey a thoughtful, intellectually stimulating account
of the world through the eyes of a political science professor turned
style, although not common in politics today, is not unheard of either.
It was perfected by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the former U.S. Senator
from our State who regularly held court regaling his audiences with
tales, anecdotes, analysis and historical evidence to reinforce his
point. Though Alan is not yet up to the apocryphal Moynihan, he does
exhibit the same professorial approach to politics.
was an interview where I never was able to establish control of pace,
however, I enjoyed it because I received responses of substance.
stopped by last Monday with his 24-year-old son Andy who seems to be
making the campaign rounds with dad. All of his kids apparently have
been bitten by the political bug. Dan Hevesi has served as State Senator
from the Forest Hills and Fresh Meadows areas since 1998, a position he
decided to relinquish after being redistricted into the same seat as
colleague Toby Stavisky, citing unhappiness working as a member of the
minority in the G.O.P. controlled body. Laura Hevesi, Alan’s oldest,
works as director of speaker’s operations and correspondence for State
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and is romantically involved with Bronx
Assemblyman Jeff Klein.
thoughtful responses to a series of questions revealed much about him.
told us politicians can deal with the time-consuming ceremonial ribbon
cutting and handshaking and still be effective elected officials.
“Without it, you destroy your basic values which include the
people’s participation in government.” You develop “a mindset that
comes from experience,” he explained. Law school “socializes you to
think like a lawyer,” much in the way that politicians learn to live a
lifestyle of immediate focus, “making decisions one after another...
What’s missing,” adds Alan, “is the opportunity to think about
what you do. We have to look at the longer term, not just the day by day
line of fire.”
was never a supporter of term limits, since they “oppose the tenets of
democracy and create an inability to look long-term.” However, he
acknowledged that in the city, “the quality is clearly better”
because of term limits. “Fresh blood,” acknowledged Alan, “is
terrific, but not if it’s the whole body.” He cited Clinton and
Giuliani as two officials in their prime that the people should have
been able to vote for. And he used Chuck Schumer’s victory over Al
D’Amato to illustrate that the people can exercise their own term
limits. Alan concluded, “I don’t believe in term limits let the
to questions concerning the equity of the State’s allocation of funds
to the city, Alan commented, “Any formula for the distribution of
public funds needs to be based on fairness, plus a need factor.”
cited his aggressive monitoring of City contracts to prevent abuse,
informally notifying agencies 400 to 500 times about something wrong in
a contract. He estimated that half the time the contracts were killed
and half the time they were corrected.
then took on the task of explaining the job of the State comptroller.
are three major obligations,” said professor Alan:
“Act as a watchdog of government agencies,” by using the audit
function to make sure there is no waste or mismanagement.
“Managing the enormous pension funds” — The State comptroller is
the single trustee, “That’s the largest investor I know,” said
“An activist comptroller” — Targeting investments that will help
create opportunities for improvement through additional housing,
community preservation or domestic violence shelters or as a large
shareholder influencing the policies of companies to achieve social or
that there will be a deficit next year, he explained that the City
economy was in a better position to rebound than the State’s. While
the city is required to have a balanced budget, the state relies on
borrowing and upstate also faces worse economic times than downstate.
deal with the deficit, this self- described “Democrat who has voted
for his share of taxes,” cautioned that while raising taxes may be
necessary, it is important to look at any resulting cost to the city or
state to insure the cost doesn’t offset the gain. Illustrating the
point, he offered an increase in the stock transfer tax may be met with
Wall Street firms moving to Jersey defeating the purpose.
last resort should be taxiing,” emphasized Hevesi.
wasn’t critical of Mayor Bloomberg’s performance, but would have
looked to cut more programs, reinstitute the commuter tax, and supported
the Council’s income tax surcharge for education. He would advocate
less borrowing, more across-the- board cuts except for education, fire
faces Bill Mulrow in the Democratic Primary for State Comptroller on
Sept. 10. Our professor of political science points out with confidence
that unknown Mulrow should have been on the air already if he expects to
catch up to Alan in name recognition.
an impressive history of public service, the demonstrated intellect to
do the job and eight years of successful performance as comptroller of
New York City, Alan Hevesi – the kid from Queens – has his sights
set on the State comptroller’s job.
offers the people of New York financial expertise with a social and
moral conscience — a rare combination in politics today.
On Hevesi 2001
a year before last week’s chat with Alan Hevesi, when he was involved
in a four-way primary for Mayor, we sat down in my office to talk about
his aspirations. I’ve excerpted from the column that ran exactly a
year ago, last week which provides the background to our relationship
and a bit of Alan’s political history.
Two kids from Queens:
Alan Hevesi & Mike Schenkler
Tribune Photo By Dee Richard
4 Publication, Queens Tribune, June 13, 2001)
was a homecoming.
not for me — I’ve been here doing this in Queens for 22 years. It
was the first time I hung out with Alan Hevesi since he was elected
Comptroller of NYC eight years ago.
was a Queens boy — I guess he still is. He and I grew up on the same
streets, went to the same schools, only he was much older. He and
I would disagree as to the meaning of “much.” I was just a freshman
when he and my sister Carole were seniors at Queens College — Alan was
president of the class. But that’s not what he was known for. Alan was
a star basketball player. Now, I’m not sure that a “star” on
Queens College is a “star” very many other places. But to us locals,
he was a star.
Associate Publisher Mike Nussbaum took an NBA team to China in the early
80s. A young Assemblyman named Hevesi was the only non-pro player. Alan
still likes to spin the yarn that he was “one for one” — the only
100 percent shooter on the tour. I guess he didn’t get a lot of
followed his career in politics. He was bright, energetic and gifted. He
was one of a very small group of upcoming politicians from the
“hood” — our neighborhood — to stand out. At 6’4" Alan
stood out as an analytical thinker. He stood out as a champion of civil
rights and he stood out as someone who cared.
he and I didn’t spend a lot of time together, we had mutual friends.
Mike Nussbaum and he had bonded as only a basketball tour can achieve.
And Trib founder Gary Ackerman and Hevesi navigated
parallel paths through Queens Democratic politics for three plus
decades. If that doesn’t produce friendship, it certainly has a unique
odor to it.
point of all of this is that Alan was my guy — our guy: the
fair-haired kid from Queens who excelled in the Assembly and rose to a
position of significant leadership; the bright scholar who took his
political theories to the classroom and inspired many Queens College
students to participate in the process; the Queens kid who turned his
focus to the City and surprised the pundits when “Alan Who?” became
our comptroller. I was proud of Alan.
didn’t always agree with him. But, I always respected him. He invited
me to breakfast — I think it was at the Blue Bay Diner — days after
being elected Comptroller. I hadn’t supported him in the election.
But, he was a gracious winner who extended a hand of friendship. You
remember those things . . . at least I do.
was proud to have Alan Hevesi of Queens as the chief financial officer
of our City.
he went off and did his job. As far as I can judge, he did it well. The
City’s financial health improved on his watch. Audits increased;
scandals decreased. Alan used his office to promote humanitarian causes
believing it appropriate for public finance officers and public pension
fund trustees to monitor efforts to return Holocaust-era funds to
rightful owners and heirs, and to fight discrimination and mistreatment
of Christians in the Sudan. For eight years his office held ceremonies
saluting the rainbow of ethnic groups that make our City great.
was a quiet and effective leader — of our City.
by Dom Nunziato
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@queenspress.com