Our Time Press

On Checks & Imbalances, and Equalizing playing fields-Pt. I

Kevin Parker

If it’s up to NYS Senator Kevin Parker, the distance between the Bushwick neighborhood where he once lived and prosperity, may decrease if he is voted into office as New York City Comptroller, come fall. We asked a local resident to describe Parker. The response was immediate, “Some think of him as a hothead, but everybody knows he’s one of the sharpest guys in politics, compassionate about what he does and he gets it done.”
Sen. Parker represents District 21 in Brooklyn, chairs the Energy and Telecommunications Committee, is the State Senate Majority Whip, and that’s just for starters. After an impressive career, he believes he’s the guy to improve on how NYC’s money is managed in a way that includes economic justice and common sense. We asked the Senator to share his ideas with us in a phone interview conducted in March.

OTP: Please go ahead, Senator.
Sen. Kevin Parker: I have spent 30 years working in public service, everything from working for Una Clarke in the City Council, Nick Perry in the State Assembly, Mario Cuomo in Urban Development Corporation which is now the Empire State Development Corporation; Carl McCall in State Comptroller’s office, worked on Wall Street for a while at Paine Webber before working to help Hillary Clinton become the U.S. Senator from New York. Since 2003, when I was elected to the New York State Senate, I’ve been on the finance committee.
And, for over a decade I’ve been on both the banking committee and the insurance committee. I’ve spent my entire senate career on the Energy and Telecommunications Committee where I’ve been either the Ranking Democrat or I’ve been the chair of the committee which I’ve been for the last eight years.
And so, you know I think that I have the rare combination of experience, leadership and vision in order to make the city comptroller’s office the way we need it to work. There’s nobody in this race who has my background.

OTP: So, what does the Comptroller’s job mean to you in this moment?
Senator Parker: It is about having a global recovery. What does that mean? That means that we can’t have what we had in 2009 and 2010 — a jobless recovery. I want to establish an Economic Equity Council — like a World Economic Forum for New York City York comprised of neighborhood, community-wide, faith and business leaders. I want to bring people together to start helping to chart a way forward. I want to focus on home ownership, because when you start talking about the way communities of color have transitioned out of poverty, it’s been through home ownership and we need to have that agency more focused in that direction.
I want to look at auditing, not defunding, the police department. Not to get rid of the police but to assure they serve and protect with dignity and respect.
I created a program that puts body cameras on every single state police officer; and I created an office of police misconduct within the context of the attorney general’s office. Since then I’ve written 15 other bills, including legislation that transitions the entire state into a program. I created non-police response to mental health and homeless calls. I’ve addressed the issue of qualified immunity, I’ve addressed that in a bill. I have another bill that puts teeth into the CCRB, the Civilian Complaint Review Board. And I’ve even defined excessive use of force in the law. I’m the only person in the entire United States who has a bill that does that.
In the state legislature, I’ve been literally the leader on the racial forum. After the murder of George Floyd, the State of New York was the first state in the entire country to pass legislative initiatives that matter to the public. We passed 10 bills that became law. Four of them were mine including the 911 false reporting bill and the bill that guarantees the right to record police activity — so important in the George Floyd case.
If I am elected as New York City comptroller, I will bring my experience as a State Senator and a city councilperson. I will continue to legislate, for all the people, plus do the job that needs to be done financially.

OTP: What steps would you take on the finance side? What are you envisioning?
Senator Parker: Right now, the Pension Fund doesn’t make dollars, nor sense. It’s purpose is to make money for the Fund, and not just dip into the city’s cash dollars in order to meet pension obligations. I also understand as the NYC Comptroller you’re not a sole trustee like you are on the state level. And so, you have to work in collaboration with Boards. I’ve shown I have a history of working in collaboration with my colleagues.
But when I talk about doing it differently, there is this: the reality is that Blacks, Latinos, Asians and women represent over 60 percent of the population, but they only have about 5% of the money in the management, with the pension funds. We’re talking about $240 billion worth of economic activity in terms of pension fund. And we have very few people who come from our communities of color who in fact have the opportunity to deal with that money.
Scott Stringer, the current comptroller, did a good job by getting three other tax funds to divest in fossil fuels but I would do it a different way. Instead of investing in fossil fuels, I will look for better opportunities to invest in a clean energy economy. The reality is, for New Yorkers in Black and Latino communities, the clean energy economy is the next best opportunity to create full-time jobs, with a decent living wage and benefits. The stimulus from the Federal Government has been great, and Congresspersons Chuck Schumer, Hakeem Jeffries and Yvette D. Clarke did a fantastic job bringing money to the state. But the reality is that we’re not going to tax our way with $600 out of this crisis. We do it by creating full-time jobs at a living wage with benefits.
So one of the first thing I want to do is create a partnership between CUNY and the City Comptroller’s Office to build small business development centers on the CUNY campus. Why? We have people in our community who know how to cook food, but don’t run the restaurant; can build a table, but can’t sell furniture.
We need to build these small business development centers in order to give them access to capital, access to bonding, mentorship and technical assistance. Within the context of work and discrimination — which nobody talks about, we haven’t gone anywhere. How can we rely on Amazon to be a rescuer for this city?
When we help a black woman have a business, she hires other black women to help run that business. And that’s how we’re going to create jobs, income, and rebuild our economy from the ground up, community by community.

I’m just looking forward to working with others to build our city, from progress to prosperity.
OTP: When you said, African Americans and Latinos participating in the pension fund, do you mean the investments from the pension fund, and how would that look?
Senator Parker: There are all kinds of people who are involved in those pension funds, including consultants, lawyers helping to manage it. I’m talking about outside lawyers. I’m not talking about people within the agency. I’m talking about the lawyers that the agency hires from outside firms to help manage and do the transactions. And you have actual firms managing large cap funds and mid cap funds. So, for example, you have $240 billion. You can actually say, let’s invest a portion of it for the people of the city of New York. When you look at the folks who have those management opportunities, less than 5% of them are Blacks, Latinos, Asians or women. And that’s despite the fact that those people are from populations that are more than 60 percent of the population of the city of New York. I’m saying that we need to change that because when you think about 2% on every transaction. That’s a lot of financial empowerment with a couple of transactions. We need to significantly change that if we’re going to have an equitable recovery.

OTP: Several years ago, we interviewed John Liu over at Goldman Sachs and he was speaking about targeting African American investment bankers to invest the funds. Is that part of your program?
Senator Parker: I am saying that I want to go further than what John was talking about. He was saying, “Take a large white firm and do the work with Black employees at these firms.” I’m saying there are black firms, Latino firms and women-based firms out there, and they should be getting the money directly.
We should be looking at some other qualified New York City firms and we should be giving them an opportunity to manage this money, period.
In the context of the pension fund, there are Wall Street firms that are owned by African Americans, owned by Latinos, owned by Asians, owned by women, which are not getting a fair shot at managing this $240 billion in pension fund obligations that the city of New York has. And we should open up the opportunity for those firms.
That’s the first piece. The second piece that I’m talking about is: the idea of the economy moving from Wall Street to Main Street, places like Brooklyn.
We have to rebuild Fulton Street, and Utica Avenue and Ralph Avenue, right? We have to rebuild the places where people work and where businesses, say like restaurants, can continue to operate.
Look at Tompkins Avenue! We need to look at where businesses are and help those businesses, because, by and large, those business haven’t received P3; they haven’t got the support. But we also know that that’s where our people are employed. And so, if we create full-time jobs with a living wage with benefits, it’s going to in our own community, it’s not going to be an Amazon dealer is coming to the neighborhood to create jobs for people. That’s never been the case.
We really need to understand where jobs are created and I’m saying that it’s going to be that job base of having people go back to work, pay their taxes, which is going to float the city, because that’s where our economic base comes from, people going to work every single day.
And the last piece is, the issue of women minority business enterprises and increasing the utilization of them.
The city of New York has the fourth largest budget in the entire country. The city of New York has an economy that if you look at it worldwide it’s one of the largest economies in the world. And we have a budget that’s larger than 48 states, including Texas and Florida which have populations that are larger than the state of New York.
It’s about $92 billion and they made it bigger this year with federal stimulus money. And usually upwards of $20 billion is contractual. Now, the city of New York has to contract out everything it does not make, from paper clips to large construction projects.
So when you look at that utilization, it’s only around 40%, but again Blacks, Latinos, Asians and the women represent about 60%. So, we needed to get that number of businesses to at least 30 or 35% and I’m committed to doing that work! In fact, some of it I’ve already done. Like I passed the law in the state legislature that allows the city of New York to give no bid contract to an MWBE up to $500,000. I want to raise that to a million dollars in order to get more money out the door to Blacks, Latinos, Asians and women firms.
I’m simply asking: “why aren’t we doing a better job at spending that money within these communities?”.

OTP: Let’s move to climate change and other issues. Right now, how will what you bring to the table factor in the life of New York, Biden’s infrastructure plan, and the new role you are pursuing as New York City Comptroller? How does it all go together? (Edited by Bernice Elizabeth Green for Our Time Press)

-To Be Continued next week

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