New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, who took office in 2007, has had an interest in public service all of his adult life – he was elected as a trustee of the Mineola Board of Education in 1972, becoming the first 18-year-old in New York State to hold public office.
Prior to becoming comptroller, DiNapoli represented the 16th Assembly District in northwestern Nassau County for two decades.
The New York State comptroller manages the state’s $180.7 billion pension fund, audits the spending practices of all state agencies and local governments, oversees the New York State and Local Retirement System, reviews the New York State and City budgets, and approves billions in State contracts and spending.
The Jewish Press: Did you find any surprises in the state comptroller’s office on your first day in the job? Were there any noteworthy challenges for which you weren’t prepared?
DiNapoli: I inherited an office mired in scandal. The investigation into pay-to-play practices under my predecessor – details of which were still emerging –showed that we had much work to do in reforming how the pension fund was run.
I immediately began reforming the New York State Common Retirement Fund to make it one of the most transparent and accountable public pension funds in the country. It wasn’t easy, but we took deliberate steps to set new standards and controls to codify ethics, transparency and accountability.
We’ve succeeded in returning the office’s focus to where it should be – on the investments and performance of the pension fund. The latest independent review of the fund by Funston Advisory Services in February 2013 found the fund operates with an industry-leading level of transparency and that its employees act within ethical and professional standards. The fund is also at an all-time high value of nearly $181 million.
How do you ensure the best rate of return for the pension fund?
The fund’s assets are invested in a diverse range of investments in order to meet current funding needs, maximize long-term value and minimize risk. The fund’s diversified portfolio includes public and private equities, fixed income, real estate, and alternative instruments and has consistently been ranked as one of the best managed and best funded plans in the nation. We are not day traders. We invest for the long term and our fund weathered the crisis of the Great Recession and is now valued, as mentioned, at an estimated an all-time high of nearly $181 billion.
As the sole official responsible for the fund, how do you ensure that the best steps are being taken on behalf of New York?
First and foremost, we’ve put strong provisions in place to ensure we operate with strong ethical standards and a high degree of transparency. We banned pay-to-play practices by prohibiting the New York State Common Retirement Fund from doing business with any investment adviser who has made a political contribution to the state comptroller or a candidate for state comptroller.
Among numerous other reforms: we banned the involvement of placement agents, paid intermediaries and registered lobbyists in investments with the Fund; Created a Pension Fund Task Force to review the practices and policies of the Fund chaired by Shannon O’Brien, the former Massachusetts Treasurer; formed a special commission, headed by former New York City mayor Ed Koch and Wall Street guru Frank Zarb, to review operations of the Office of the State Comptroller; and created a mandatory ethics training program for all staff, including the comptroller.
In addition, we created an inspector general position to monitor and review investment transactions and the activities of the comptroller and all employees in my office and hired a special counsel for ethics to monitor and review investment transactions and to develop and implement a comprehensive ethics program.