Scott Stringer, the underdog being drawn to the fore
Who is Scott Stringer?
The greatest challenge for the comptroller candidate running against scandal-sullied former Gov. Eliot Spitzer thus far is name recognition.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has a lengthy political career — going all the way back to his appointment to a community board at the age of 16 — but his accomplishments have been largely overshadowed by the “Steamroller” Spitzer, made infamous when he was exposed in 2008 for soliciting prostitutes.
“Even when you start out as unpopular, right, as he is — 50 percent, 60 percent negative — people have to know who the alternative is,” Stringer said.
But after resounding endorsements from the New York Times, the New York Post and the New York Daily News last week, it appears Stringer may be edging his way into the spotlight.
“Today is a change in the campaign,” he said Saturday morning, still grinning from the discovery of the Times’ and the Post’s endorsements in that morning’s papers. “It’s very exciting.”
Stringer has been lauded for revamping and adding teeth to the office of Manhattan borough president.
“Nothing we’ve done as borough president is common,” he said proudly, citing the work his office did to secure NYCHA elevator repairs after they discovered the elevators failed inspections 75 percent of the time, and in “whistleblowing” on the Department of Education’s use of outside consultants.
He has similar ambitions for the office of the city comptroller, proposing to make the auditor-in-chief a more proactive role: Rather than reviewing the city’s biggest contracts after they’re already in place, he wants the comptroller to be in the room from the beginning, as early as the formulation of a request for proposals.
“We can totally go 2.0 in the comptroller’s office,” he insisted.
Stringer says he still feels the same excitement at politics that he did at age 16, the youngest person to ever be appointed to a community board.
“I’m as excited as I was when I walked into the Assembly the first day and said, ‘This is the life,’” Stringer recounted.
And he has a youthful, almost naive reverence for political idealism. Explaining the feeling of responsibility at winning the Manhattan borough president election against eight other “extremely qualified” candidates, he said: “You can’t mess with that trust, you can never abuse that trust.”
“What’s so offensive about Eliot [Spitzer],” he added, “is he had that trust. … People gave him their trust and their hope, and he ruined it.”
There is an energy to Stringer on the campaign trail that doesn’t comport with this wonkish nerd seen at the first debates: Yes, he is the borough president whose office produced reams of reports — at least 50, he said — on economic policy, but on the campaign trail interacting with voters he is excited, eager for conversation.
At a campaign stop with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. outside a Pathmark at Co-op City, Stringer is the rare politician that seeks out the talkative voter, rather than settling for a handshake and the promise of a vote.
When his spokeswoman Audrey Gelman tells him he has to leave in five minutes, a disappointed Stringer, watching wistfully as Diaz praised him to constituents, protested, “That’s it? Really?”
Then a wiry, elderly African-American woman approached him and said, “I’ve always wanted to meet you.”
Stringer brightened, delighted. “Yeah?”
The woman told him her last name is Stringer too, and repeated: “I always wanted to meet you — always.”
With the assurance of her vote, Stringer acquiesced to Gelman and headed back to his car, where Frank, a volunteer driver with questionable navigational skills, was about to take him along a very scenic route back to Manhattan by way of Rye, N.Y.
What to expect from Comptroller Scott Stringer
- Stringer said he has a plan to cut $400 million that the pension fund pays out to wealthy managers and allocate the savings to education, housing and tax relief for the middle class.
- One of the most imperative steps the next comptroller will need to take, according to Stringer, is to get the city’s five pension funds more aligned to reduce administrative costs that are estimated at upwards of a billion dollars.
- Stringer proposed a reduction in fees and administrative costs in agencies citywide to produce funds for more police officers, fire stations and affordable housing.
- Stringer wants to expand the types of contracts that are registered with the comptroller’s office to facilitate oversight of the bigger, more costly contracts, such as those with large tech companies.
- Stringer said he will push for comptroller involvement at the earliest stages of city contract development to monitor the integrity of contracts before it’s too late to make real changes: “I believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Stringer said.
Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat