Seven candidates for New York City comptroller said they would not support the Israel boycott or divest the city’s pension funds from Israeli companies.
The seven spoke at a virtual forum Monday night, less than one month before the June 22 Democratic primary. UJA-Federation of New York was among a number of nonprofit sponsors of the forum.
The candidates spoke about the priorities for the position, which oversees the city’s pension funds and acts as the chief financial officer of the city. Sally Goldenberg, Politico New York’s City Hall bureau chief, moderated.
Although there have been few overt calls for the city to divest from Israeli companies, the Israel boycott is considered a threshold issue for much of the Jewish community. The topic was first raised by candidate Michele Caruso-Cabrera, a former CNBC host who launched a challenge to progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from the right in 2020. Caruso-Cabrera condemned the antisemitic incidents in New York City in recent weeks.
“I stand with the Jewish community now and forever and want to do as much as possible to reduce antisemitism,” she said, calling on her opponents to condemn the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS.
Zach Iscol, a Marine Corps veteran and nonprofit executive who followed Caruso-Cabrera, said he would not divest the city’s pension funds from Israeli companies. “Those are important investments and ones I wouldn’t want to lose the opportunity for,” Iscol said.
Brad Lander, who is Jewish and one of the most progressive candidates in the race, also weighed in on the question of BDS and the city’s pension funds.
“I don’t support BDS and I would certainly not use the portfolio of the pensioners to affect politics,” Lander said. But he added that he does not support criminalizing BDS, referring to legislation that would penalize companies that refuse to do business with Israeli entities. “It is appropriate for people to engage themselves in nonviolent action to make change.”
Lander also condemned the recent spate of antisemitic attacks in New York City in the wake of the violence in Israel and Gaza. “We have to stand up to hate, the antisemitic acts have to be called out and opposed,” he said.
While the comptroller position is not a particularly flashy or high profile one, it has gotten a boost due to the crush on the city’s budget after a year of pandemic-related losses and new costs. It is also seen as a stepping stone to higher office, a route that Scott Stringer, the current comptroller, is trying to take to Gracie Mansion.
“The comptroller’s office is probably the most important office that people aren’t paying attention to,” Corey Johnson, the current speaker of the City Council and one of the candidates for the role, said during the forum.
Most of the candidates agreed on certain broad positions. All agreed that the city needs to do better when it comes to paying nonprofit organizations who hold contracts with the city in a timely manner, an issue important to many of the organizations that receive funding from UJA-Federation.
Brian Benjamin, a state senator who represents Harlem and the Upper West Side and chairs the Budget and Revenues Committee, touted his experience in investment banking and spoke about the need to direct federal stimulus money towards recovery costs rather than long-term programs.
Also appearing were State Sen. Kevin Parker of Brooklyn’s 21st District and State Assembly David Weprin of District 24 in Queens.