The two Democratic candidates running for the post of city comptroller disagreed at a forum in Bellerose Tuesday over how the city's schools should be administered.
Bill Thompson, who was the Board of Education president from 1996 until March when he resigned to run for comptroller, said his financial experience with the board made him the most qualified candidate. But City Councilman Herbert Berman (D-Brooklyn) bashed the Board of Education and said he would like to abolish it.
When talking about the Board of Education, Berman became extremely animated, began pounding on the podium and raising the level of his voice.
"Get rid of the Board of Education," Berman said. "It is a repository of incompetence ... I cannot think of one thing at all it has done that warrants replication."
He said the mayor should appoint a special commissioner of education to run the city school system.
The Board of Education is one of the many agencies overseen by the comptroller, who is the city's chief financial officer.
The forum, held at the Bellerose Jewish Center, was co-sponsored by the Northern Bellerose Civic Association and the Glen Oaks Ledger. It was moderated by TimesLedger Publisher Steve Blank.
Thompson and Berman, who are both Brooklyn natives, took turns speaking and answering questions at the podium, starting with Thompson.
Conservative John D'Emic has also filed with the Campaign Finance Board as a candidate for comptroller, but he did not attend the forum. All other candidates have until July 12 to file their petitions.
Thompson said he tried as Board of Ed president to simplify the board's budget so that the average parent could understand the system. He then spoke about how he would like to transform the office of comptroller.
"I want to make the position not just oversight but more aggressive and more activist," Thompson said.
He said he would build on some of the work current Comptroller Alan Hevesi has done, but would also try to ensure that no neighborhood gets short-changed by city agencies.
He also emphasized the importance of the comptroller's role as a voice of the people, someone who can challenge the mayor's policies, if necessary.
He said public school teachers should be making more money and might consider merit pay on a school-by-school basis.
"There is a desperate need for teachers and we are starting to underpay our teachers compared to all other places in the New York area," Thompson said.
Berman (D-Brooklyn) said his 26 years of experience in the Council, including six years as the chairman of the Education Committee and the past 11 years as chairman of the Finance Committee, qualified him to be the next city comptroller.
He cited the Finance Committee's track record of developing a city budget that met the needs of all 51 council members and was completed on time.
"I have worked with some of the best fiscal minds in this city," Berman said.
As comptroller, Berman said it would be his responsibility to fight what he called "offensive" budget cuts by the mayor, such as Mayor Rudolf Giuliani's attempts to cut funding to the city's libraries.
He said Hevesi has done a good job as comptroller but he would take the job a step further by publicizing all the audits his office conducts.
"I would do audits not only to make sure the agency is not breaking any rules, but also to check on its productivity," he said.
Three candidates for the office of public advocate, Norman Siegel, Kathryn Freed and Betsy Gottbaum, as well as Democratic mayoral candidate and Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), spoke at the forum following the candidates for comptroller.
Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 138.
©2001 Community News Group
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