By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Saying that it makes sense for voters to elect a candidate with financial sector experience to serve as the comptroller, US Rep. Michael Grimm announced on Tuesday he is endorsing Republican John Burnett for the job of watchdog over the city’s money.
“I’m doing this because the office of comptroller is that important to the city of New York,” Grimm said during the endorsement announcement on the sidewalk in front of Mike’s Hinsch’s, a diner on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge.
Burnett, 43, a first-time candidate for public office, is running against Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, a Democrat, for city comptroller. The two men are running to succeed John Liu, the city’s current comptroller.
Burnett, who was born in Brooklyn and currently lives in Harlem, is a 20-year veteran of the financial world. He has served as a vice president and director at Merrill Lynch and as a margin analyst for Morgan Stanley, among other positions.
The comptroller’s job is to look after the financial health of the city. The comptroller advises the mayor and the city council on the city’s financial condition, makes recommendations on city programs and financial transactions. The comptroller also audits city agencies and manages the assets of the five New York City pension funds.
Grimm (R-C-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Staten Island) said Burnett’s two decades of experience handling money matters combined with his status as a political rookie makes him the perfect candidate for comptroller.
“He has private sector experience. He is not a bureaucrat,” Grimm said. Noting that part of the comptroller’s job entails conducting audits on city agencies, Grimm said an independent voice, free of political favors, is needed in that job. “It’s hard to be objective if you come up through the ranks of city bureaucracy,” he said.
Grimm, who said chose to make his announcement in front of Hinsch’s “because it’s a small business,” added that Burnett understands the city's mom-and-pop stores and wants to help them succeed. “He gets why it’s so important to have a strong local economy,” he said.
Burnett would seek to stop the city’s Department of Health from dispatching over-zealous inspectors to harass restaurant owners with unnecessary fines, Grimm said. “The Health Department is out of control,” Grimm said, adding that between the fines and the costs of renovating the restaurant to bring it up to code, owners don’t have the money to hire more employees. That hurts the city’s economy, according to Grimm.
Burnett, who said he was grateful for Grimm’s support, agreed with the congressman on the issue of fines. “Fines and fees on small businesses are not the way to build the city’s economy. It’s not a growth plan,” he said.
The money that the restaurant owner is paying out in fines “is money that can go to growth capital or hiring other workers,” he said. “We want to encourage small businesses to take charge of their future,” Burnett said.
On other financial matters relating to the comptroller’s office, Burnett said that if elected comptroller, he would seek to revamp the city’s pension system by reducing administrative costs. He vowed to restructure the fees the city pays to Wall Street by 25 percent and said he would seek to contain health-care costs for city workers by creating health-care trust funds.
Burnett said he would also “open up opportunities for mid-level companies” when it comes to investing in the city’s pension funds instead of relying solely on big banks and giant corporations. Middle level firms, especially those owned by women and minorities, deserve a piece of the pie, he said.
The election takes place on Nov. 5.