Comptroller candidate Brad Lander speaks at a rally outside City Hall on June 5, 2021 in New York City. (Shutterstock)
By Linda Nwoke
Now that the election for the various positions in New York City is concluded, with winners announced, New Yorkers are wondering what next, when can we begin to see the changes promised during the campaign?
We caught up with one of the newly elected officials, the NYC comptroller, a vital position that contributes significantly to the smooth running of affairs in the City. The comptroller-elect, Councilmember Brad Lander, who represents the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope, ran his campaign focusing on pushing a post-pandemic recovery and climate change.
Listen to an interview with New York City Comptroller Brad Lander below:
The following is an excerpt from his discussions with our Editor-in-Chief, where we addressed issues about his role, what New Yorkers should expect in the first 100 days of resumption, effecting changes, and more.
With over 15 years of experience in public service, Brad Lander will be working closely with the new mayor-elect Eric Adams, Brooklyn’s borough president who was elected Mayor. Lander’s role will serve as a check-in to Eric Adam’s administration. As New York City undergoes the numerous challenges magnified by COVID 19, there is an urgent need to ensure that the more than $14 billion Covid recovery funds from the federal government are used judiciously in restoring NYC communities.
Role of the New York Comptroller
Councilmember Lander explained that his job as the comptroller, the City’s budget watchdog, also requires working closely with the Mayor and other city council members to render good governance in the City.
Practically, it means his position oversees the spending pattern within the City, looking out for all communities and ensuring the proper expenditure of the budget. “Our long-term fiduciary is to make sure that our public sector workers get their pensions. And also, as our City’s chief accountability officer to make sure the city government is keeping its promises that agencies are working well, that we’re spending our money wisely. ”
Top Priorities for the Administration in the First 100 Days
Paramount on the comptroller’s list of proposed accomplishments in the first centennial of assuming office ensures the judicious use of the allocated resources to help the communities get out of the pandemic, particularly, setting up a tracking system to monitor performances of the different agencies. He intends to set up a tracking system to identify spending and other metrics to assess whether the expenditure meets the set goals.
“So I’m going to set up a tracking system to make sure those American Rescue Plan funds and infrastructure funds are spent wisely. But also get out to the communities that need them most, that the jobs get to people who need them, that they’re living wage or union jobs, creating real opportunities. ”
Secondly, he will be setting up an audit-tracking system to track the performance of the City’s agencies. Citing an incident to buttress his point, he said, “In Southeast Queens, the number one issue was people are so upset about the garbage and the illegal dumping and the sanitation. That means there are rats all over the communities. So just getting the government to do the basics in every community is a real focus of mine.”
Just as planning ahead for emergencies remains a priority, in his view, the City was ill-prepared for the crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “I want to get us on a better path of thinking about what crises are coming in the long term. You know, we weren’t ready for the pandemic, and we paid for it in the lives of over 30000 of our neighbors”, he says. Hence there is a need to begin planning for the looming climate crisis.”
According to Comptroller-elect Lander, “We know that the climate crisis is coming. We saw that in Hurricane Ida and Hurricane Sandy. We know that it’ll be the front-line communities of color that will bear the brunt of it unless we do more now to make sure we’re building a resilient city with principles of environmental justice in mind.”
Building a Public Bank for the People of New York City
The comptroller’s idea of a public bank is an institution that caters to the needs and interests of marginalized or minority community members through the provision of loans. A financial institution to build the community by making loans available to Minority and Women-Owned Businesses (MWB).
In his view, the public bank funds are from some of the assets and resources the City generates from taxes and can be used to promote and build values. “Rather than put them in a private lending institution where monies might get lent out to Amazon or Facebook or Walmart, why don’t we have a public bank. A bank that says we’re going to lend those resources out for things that will make money, but that is consistent with our values for a thriving and more inclusive New York City,” he explains.
Past reports from the NYC comptroller’s office indicate assigning less than 4% of the City’s more than $20 billion annual contracting budget to MWB. These reports help keep the City, his office, and other agencies accountable. He explains, “I’m going to keep putting out the annual report that the comptroller does, that holds every city agency, including the comptroller’s office accountable.”
However, working with the Mayor’s office to facilitate the timely payment of contracts is essential beyond producing reports. According to him, “Right now, when you get a contract from the City, it might take a year before you get paid. And, if you’re a small business that doesn’t have a lot of capital, you can’t wait all that time.”
Therefore, the proposed public bank will support small businesses by providing loans. “This is where that public bank comes in, to provide some lines of credit or startup capital that could especially help minority and women-owned businesses get the capital they need to get started, so they could even bid on a city contract.”
Supporting NYC’s Immigrant Future: Making a Difference
In addition to successfully supporting the passing of the ‘Our City, Our Vote’ bill, which strengthens the City’s diversity and increases the voice of immigrants, Lander vouches to continuously support the creation of more investment opportunities for small startup businesses.
For instance, we encourage a more efficient license approval system, supporting easy access to capital and loans, promoting new rounds of affordable and cooperative homeownership programs for working-class families, and not ignoring affordable housing for low-income people.
“I would like to see a new round of affordable and cooperative homeownership programs like the old Mitchell Lama program. Back in the day, we used a lot of the money for affordable housing to create co-ops and homeownership opportunities, but now almost all of it goes to private developers to build rental housing.”
The Comptroller-elect addressed the issue of affordable low-income housing, especially for the homeless or ‘to be evicted homeowners.
Beyond all the reports, the new comptroller wants to effect changes by working hands-on with the stakeholders they support. “We have a set of ideas for how we can do that function, but in a way that works thoughtfully with the administration and agencies. So, there are opportunities at the beginning of an audit to say, let’s talk about an area we’re going to look at so that when we release our findings, the commissioner will stand up together with the comptroller and say, we’re diving in to fix them.”
He remains an advocate for going beyond blame games and focusing on the solution. “The mayor-elect and I are convening a task force. Our teams are working together, and we’re going to make sure you don’t have to wait a year to get paid for that childcare service or that eldercare service rendered.”
Health Disparities, Job Creation and Small Business Survival Post COVID-19
Since and during COVID-19, reports have shown that black and brown communities have struggled with health disparities, job creation, and small business survival linked to racial injustice. The comptroller-elect acknowledged the fact, “We have to start by saying we see the ways that Black and Caribbean and Latino communities are excluded from opportunities that have real consequences because of COVID in our schools, business opportunity, pay disparities and in contracting.”
However, beyond being honest, he insisted it’s equally important to map out and execute effective plans for a lasting change that will benefit every community member. A solution captured in the book, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together,” by Heather McGhee he claims. “And so, she shows how on the one hand, we have to hold that equity lens up and see disparities because it’s a matter of justice and we’re violating our fundamental values and principles. But on the other hand, if we can build an economy that’s genuinely equal and inclusive, it’s more thriving for everyone because more people can create new businesses and succeed. You have fewer problems down the line.”
Some of his immediate steps to address racial justice in his tenure include creating a new position called ‘Chief Equity Auditor’ and ensuring the team gets training from experts in the field.
He shared a call he held with Senator Schumer on the infrastructure bill and using it to effect changes; for the first time, it takes an approach to the jobs. It brings an equity lens that says we want to make sure that people of color can get the contracts, the jobs, the union apprenticeships so that those public resources can be an opportunity to right historical wrongs and create more opportunities. And we’re going to hire for a position that we call Chief Equity Auditor.”
New York Governorship Race
The New York Governorship race is the next big thing besides the lingering COVID-19 epidemic. Lander talked about his support for Jumaane Williams, one of the contenders, someone he has worked with over the years, and believes in his candidacy, “Jumaane is someone I had the great blessing to work with all 12 years in my time in the City Council. We knew each other when he ran tenants and neighbors, and I ran the Fifth Avenue Committee. Together, we worked to pass the Community Safety Act, to combat discriminatory stop and frisk. I was proud to be his partner in passing the Community Safety Act. But I’m excited about his campaign for governor and the way that he’s articulating a really bold, progressive vision of what’s possible in New York state.” he added.
New Wave of Progressive Change
As promised during his campaign, the NYC Comptroller elect is ready to effect changes, and New Yorkers are about to witness a new wave of progressive changes.
Brad Lander, the new comptroller, is looking forward to serving the people better. Not that many people really know what the comptroller does, but we want to be partners, and we want to work with you,” he says. We look forward!