It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that prior to 2013 most New Yorkers didn’t know how to pronounce the word “comptroller,” and even fewer were aware of what the job actually entailed. All that changed pretty dramatically when former governor Eliot Spitzer entered a city comptroller race which had previously seemed like a sure win for former state assemblyman and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. Suddenly, though, all bets were off, because Spitzer brought much more than infamy to the comptroller race; he also brought far more money than his opponent, and far more than had ever been spent in a city comptroller race to date. What had seemed like an easy coast to victory quickly became a hard-fought battle that brought more attention to the role of the city’s auditor-in-chief than ever before. But, well, we all know how this story ends: Scott Stringer was victorious in the Democratic primary and went on to win the general election. So, story over, right? Never going to hear much about the comptroller again? Wrong.
In the year since Stringer’s been the city comptroller (and, FYI, it’s pronounced “controller”), it’s been evident that the job has the potential to be one with a great deal of impact on the issues that most affect the day-to-day lives of many New Yorkers. Things like housing costs, public school programs, the public pension plan, flexible work hours… all of these are issues with which the comptroller is involved, either directly or indirectly. Of course, any job is what you make of it, and Stringer could have chosen to remain firmly in the background of city government, as have many comptrollers before him. But instead, Stringer has come out as a vocal advocate for many progressive programs, and has been critical of the city government when it has failed to enact effective change in places where it’s most needed. Stringer has used the job of comptroller to become something of a conscience for the city on issues like flex-time, which would offer a less rigid employment environment for low-wage workers, and has fought for better oversight over new programs, like the city’s newly established universal pre-K system.
We sat down recently with Stringer to talk about what his first year on the job has been like, and what he thinks are the biggest challenges the city and its residents will face going forward. As a life-long New Yorker, the 53-year-old Stringer has witnessed a lot of changes since he was a boy growing up in Washington Heights, and he has the same concerns for the city that even the newest arrivals (barring Taylor Swift, that is) have: that the city will become unaffordable for the type of people it should most want to attract. So over a couple of sodas at Calexico in Greenpoint, we spoke about Stringer’s assessment of the city’s present troubles and triumphs, and how he believes he can help take New York to a brighter future.