PARK SLOPE/KENSINGTON — All but fifteen members are term-limited in New York City 51-member council body. And as the 2021 municipal elections approach, some lawmakers have their sites on other offices, including Brad Lander, who opened a committee to be the city’s next comptroller.
“I love serving the people in this city and I want to keep doing that,” said Lander. “That’s part of what motivates me. To think what are the ways I can be of best service to the city and the values that we share going forward.”
Lander represents the 39th council district which covers Brooklyn’s brownstone belt, including Parks Slope, Windsor Terrace, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Gowanus and parts of Borough Park and Kensington. Lander first assumed office in 2010, succeeding now-Mayor Bill de Blasio when he ascended to the office of public advocate.
Lander has raised more than $200,000 in his pursuit of the office.
“You do have to keep your eye on the long term and that’s why I filed this committee,” Lander said adding that 2021 is a long time away with much “important” work from him in between.
He’s not exaggerating. A portion of his district is undergoing a massive rezoning. Lander, who has a masters in Urban Planning from Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, is spearheading the project and will either seek approval from his fellow council members when the plan is up to vote. The Gowanus rezoning plan is meant to develop a formerly industrial neighborhood into a mix of uses, affordable housing and job growth.
And while Gowanus is a colossal undertaking, responsibilities for the city-wide position dwarf that of any councilmember.
The comptroller leads a staff of nearly 800 and has a working annual budget of $110 million in 2019, according to a spokesperson. The office serves as the chief fiscal czar, auditing city agencies and including serving as a fiduciary to the city’s five public funds totaling $160 billion. Comptroller Scott Stringer currently holds the office but cannot seek re-election because of term limits.
“The way I think about the comptroller’s office is it’s the office assigned to take the longterm view on what matters in the city,” Lander said. “It’s the place that has the responsibility for strengthening trust in government by keeping an eye on the premises that we make.
“And that could be the promise to sector workers that they’ll have retriment security, which you achieve by managing pension funds well,” he added. “That is by doing the audits of all city agencies, and saying — you know, it’s important that we keep an eye on whether they’re doing the job right. And that’s both protecting against waste, fraud and abuse but it’s also thinking what can we do better because we’re paying more attention to what all this new data is telling us about how we’re providing those services.
Currently, the lawmaker is working on a bill that would protect the city’s fast-food workers from unfair firings.
“Following on the work we’ve done to get people stable schedules and a decent wage, were’ going to try to provide that protection as well,” noting a “shifting economy” has put so many people in precarious positions.
“That’s a thing I would really like to use the comptroller’s office to do, in a shifting economy,” he said. “How do we keep it thriving and vibrant but make sure workers have some stability and basic protections,” noting how the growth of the gig economy leaves freelancers vulnerable to employment abuse just like fast-food workers.
“And that’s really true for workers across the income spectrum,” he said, about a measure that would disrupt the city’s at-will employment rules forever.
Like his potential candidacy, Lander prioritizes the longterm view.
“Similarly in thinking about the economic future of the city, you’ve got a responsibility, he said of the comptroller position. “You’ve got a team of economists, a team of auditors, you keep your eye on the budget. But it’s not only keeping your eye on this year’s budget but is the budget sound for the long term? Are we investing in infrastructure in a sound way?”
“And obviously at this point in time, you have to be thinking about things like climate change,” adding the importance of incorporating climate change its impact on the economy.
Lander will face at least one other lawmaker in the 2021 comptroller race. Manhattan City Council Helen Rosenthal has also filed a committee.