When The Jewish Week first spoke with Bruce Blakeman in June, shortly after his nomination as the Republican candidate for state comptroller, he had difficulty making his case against Democratic incumbent H. Carl McCall, preferring to talk about his own qualifications.
But after several months of campaigning, the hesitation is gone. Although numerous observers have noted the cordial relationship between Republican Gov. George Pataki and Democrat McCall, Blakeman nevertheless blasted his opponent for running a “partisan” office. “His audits are done in a partisan nature, and when he has made examples of areas he thinks are of concern, he’s done nothing to let his good offices solve the problems,” said Blakeman in an interview at The Jewish Week.
A recent Quinnipiac College poll placed McCall in a strong lead over Blakeman, 47 to 20 percent. Blakeman had raised less than $1 million as of his last Board of Elections filing in July, but expects to have raised close to $5 million by the end of the race. Blakeman, 42, of Woodmere, L.I., earned a political science degree at Arizona State University and a law degree at California Western School of Law. He served as a board member of Sen. Alfonse D’Amato’s hometown of Hempstead, L.I., before becoming presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature in 1995. Blakeman, who is Jewish, has strong ties to the Long Island and Far Rockaway Jewish communities and is making outreach to Jewish voters a priority. Last week, his campaign hired Raphael Cohen, a 34-year-old former yeshiva student from Lakewood, N.J. as a Jewish liaison.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Jewish Week: Comptroller McCall recently announced the investment of $5 million of the state’s pension funds in Israel Bonds, the first in a series of such investments. Was he correct, and would you continue this pattern?
Bruce Blakeman: The first thing I would do with respect to the investment portfolio would be to identify companies and corporations in New York and invest in the economic prosperity of New York, to create jobs and save jobs here. But bearing in mind that you must have a diverse portfolio I certainly would support the purchase of Israeli bonds as part of the foreign investment portfolio. This comptroller has invested heavily in Europe and Asia and I don’t see any reason not to invest in Israel as part of the percentage you wish to invest overseas. I think the investment in Israel is a very good one. There has never been a situation of any default in Israeli bonds and I certainly see no reason why we should not make that part of the portfolio.
A court recently overruled Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s objections to McCall’s request for statistics for an audit. Do you disagree with Mayor Giuliani?
Those audits done just prior to the [mayoral] election fell within the [category] of performance audits, not fiscal audits, which are within the province of the comptroller’s office. But if the comptroller is going to do that within an election cycle, I think it is incumbent on him to do an across-the-board performance audit, not take a press release from Mayor Giuliani and take five agencies marked as improved and pick those out for a very partisan audit. He was cherry picking a few of the statistics to try and embarrass the mayor. He also showed his partisanship [during the Dinkins administration] when he totally covered up the fact that New York City was in dire fiscal shape and certainly conducted extremely soft audits indicating that basically the city’s financial picture was bright. He knew there was a strong deficit that was clearly underestimated by Dinkins. He’s a former Dinkins appointee [to the Board of Education]. He did the same with his other mentor, Mario Cuomo, who appointed him comptroller [in 1993]. He conducted a very soft audit during the Pataki-Cuomo campaign.
The Republican party recently began airing “New York City liberal” commercials seen as stoking upstate-downstate, and possibly ethnic tensions. How do you feel about the ads?
I think what they’re talking about is the liberal philosophy espoused by [Assembly Speaker] Sheldon Silver and the New York liberal Democratic machine, and how that is counterproductive to the state as a whole. Sheldon Silver is the most identifiable Democrat, more identifiable than Carl McCall. I believe it is fair game to indicate where the differences are. Silver was blocking the Jenna’s law abolishing parole for violent felons and did a turnaround. People around the state said we agree with governor and Republicans in the Senate and the speaker set himself up to be a fall guy. [But] I didn’t create the ad, I had nothing to do with the ad, I didn’t pay for the ad and my name’s not on it, my picture is not on it.
You talk of the need for a non-partisan comptroller, yet if you were to serve with a re-elected Pataki, one might think you would be less inclined to criticize a fellow Republican. Won’t voters want a Democratic comptroller as a check on a Republican administration?
Our research shows that there is nobody who walks into a voting booth and [thinks that way]. People vote for a candidate. But my job is not to criticize. I see my role as one of the problem-solver. It’s important for the comptroller to identify problems and bring those problems to the attention of whoever is in charge of that agency, that department, that municipality.Will you be able to point out problems to Gov. Pataki?
Absolutely. I would try to work with whoever might be in charge, and show them that we have identified this problem, here is the data. We do have a problem, how can we be helpful in solving this problem? I think the governor and I share the same philosophy about government … I would get a receptive audience and try to solve a problem. McCall took an active role in the Swiss banks controversy, threatening an investment boycott of Swiss institutions. Did he do the right thing?
If it wasn’t for Sen. D’Amato I don’t believe any progress would have been made on the Swiss gold scandal. You have to put credit where it belongs. He picked up the issue at a point in time when [World Jewish Congress President] Edgar Bronfman found himself up against a brick wall, with no place to go for help. As a last resort he went to D’Amato as chair of the Senate Banking Committee. He deserves the lion’s share of the credit. Now if Carl McCall or anybody else, Republican or Democrat, was otherwise involved in the process in a positive way I salute them for that. … I worked with Sen. D’Amato, sponsored in the Nassau County Legislature the largest forum on the Nazi gold scandal ever held, 1,500 people in Cedarhurst, we fully examined that issue. We shouldn’t turn away help from any corner. [But] an argument could be made that the timing of the announced boycott prior to the Sept. 1 deadline [for a settlement] was political … A lot of people jumped on the bandwagon.
You are the only Jewish candidate on an otherwise all-Catholic Republican ticket. Are you concerned that the Democrats have a more diverse ticket with arguably a wider appeal?
People don’t care, in my opinion, and research has borne that out. We’ve had Jewish elected officials and Catholic elected officials, African Americans statewide. [But] people vote issues and they vote philosophy and they vote a candidate, someone they identify with and agree with. On a regional basis too, it’s philosophy. Ideology is more important than ethnic politics or racial politics or regional balancing.