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Comptroller race is about money


New York's comptroller is in charge of various aspects of state finances, but one of its biggest obligations is serving as trustee for the state's pension funds. And it's in that role that the comptroller can put some pressure on private business, either though shareholder advocacy or by choosing where to invest.

Over the last few years, climate and environmental activists have been urging the current comptroller, Tom DiNapoli, a Democrat, to divest state pension funds from fossil fuel companies. That hasn't happened, and Green Party candidate Mark Dunlea is running to push the issue.

Divesting would be relatively simple, says Dunlea, former director of the New York Hunger Action Network and co-founder of NYPIRG. The state would take the pension money invested in fossil fuel companies and redistribute it to other areas it already invests in. Divestment would not only discourage fossil fuels growth, but it would also protect New Yorkers by getting state money out of an increasingly risky investment, he says.

DiNapoli has divested pension funds from other industries; last year he pulled pension funds out of for-profit prison companies. But he's argued against pulling investments out of fossil fuel companies for fear that it could harm the pension fund, and because holding stock in the companies allows the state to serve as an activist.

DiNapoli has served as state comptroller since 2007, and he highlights his efforts to root out corruption and fraud as well as theft of state money. He also faces challenges from:

• Republican Jonathan Trichter, an investment banker who argues that DiNapoli hasn't exercised enough oversight over state budgets and programs. He also says the state pension fund has underperformed under DiNapoli, that he could improve the fund's performance, and that pension investments shouldn't be used for political activism.

• Libertarian Cruger Gallaudet, a former investment banker as well as a real estate broker and businessman. He's generally sticking to themes of protecting taxpayers and pensioners, and he also argues against the comptroller serving an activist role.