Thank you for your past support and once again I'm asking for your support for this year's November 3, 2015 general election.
I am on the ballot as the Green candidate for Syracuse City Auditor. I had not planned on running for anything this year. I had planned to focus on supporting our local Green candidates around the state.
But I was asked by many people, of all the parties, to run for Syracuse City Auditor because the incumbent, Marty Masterpole, is not doing the job. As I looked into it, I got angry. I pay over 10 percent of my income from unloading trucks at UPS to city government in property taxes. With all the problems Syracuse faces, we cannot afford to carry unproductive elected officials who are not fulfilling the basic requirements of their jobs.
The city budget expects 8 financial audits and 3 special audits per year. Masterpole has produced only 4 audits a year since taking office in 2012, far fewer than the up to 14 per year of his 2004-2011 predecessor (see for yourself at http://www.syrgov.net/city_auditor.aspx).
The city charter expects monthly audits of the Department of Finance; annual audits of all city departments, the school district, and the housing authority; and an external audit of the auditing department every other year. None of these charter requirements are being met.
Crumbling Infrastructure and High Poverty
Syracuse cannot afford to provide basic services and infrastructure. The city has been closing fire stations, youth programs, and senior centers. A quarter of the public school staff has been cut since 2009.
Over half of Syracuse property is tax exempt. State revenue sharing is frozen at an historically low level. As the regional center of Central New York, Syracuse hosts tax-free many federal, state, county and city government offices and agencies and major universities and hospitals. Well-connected developers and businesses have been granted tax breaks.
Syracuse infrastructure is crumbling. The city had 391 water main breaks last year. When asked for assistance, Governor Cuomo told the city to fix its own pipes.
Syracuse has the most concentrated black and latino poverty, and fifth most concentrated white poverty, of any metropolitan region in the country, accord to the Century Foundation's recent report, "Architecture of Segregation."
According a U.S. Census report out this month, the poverty rate in Syracuse for 2014 was 34.4 percent, making it the 16th poorest city among 585 cities in the U.S. with populations greater than 65,000. Syracuse had the highest poverty rate of any city in New York State.
Child poverty was 50.2 percent, more than triple the 15.9 percent New York State average and the national average of 15.5 percent.
Black poverty was 42 percent, Asian poverty was 52.1 percent, and Hispanic poverty was 57.5 percent.
Barely half of our students graduate from high school. 18 of 34 city public schools are slated for "receivership" by the New York State Education Department and privatization into charter schools.
I got angry because I see the corruption from top to bottom in our government. The least that local elected officials can do is do their jobs.
We all know about the 41 state politicians who have faced legal or ethical charges since 2000. Two more assembly members were sentenced to prison last month.
At the federal level, military spending consumes over half of the discretionary budget. But every year the Government Accountability Office declares the Pentagon budget to be "un-auditable" due to chronically poor expense management and controls.
One example that is particularly galling involves State and Treasury as well as Defense and the intelligence agencies. It is the massive theft documented by James Risen of the New York Times and others of the $12 billion to $14 billion airlifted on pallets of shrink-wrapped $100 bills early in the Iraq invasion, plus the additional $5 billion sent by electronic transfer. Much of this money was diverted by corrupt Iraqi officials, U.S. military personnel, and U.S. contractors. Some of the most obvious but small diversions by U.S. citizens were successfully prosecuted. Yet even though billions remain unaccounted for, the office of the special inspector general for Iraq was closed in 2013.
We are a long way from reigning in waste, fraud, and abuse by the Pentagon. None of the major party presidential candidates are making this an issue.
The ethics reform plank of my platform for Governor last year called for full public campaign financing, a full-time legislature with no potentially corrupting outside fees and salaries, and independent ethics oversight. At least these reforms are being debated in New York State.
It is at the local level, however, that we can make a real difference right now.
Independent. Hard Working. Professional.
From a lifetime of working on construction sites and loading docks, I know that you have to work hard to keep your job. There may or may not be the bribes, theft, bid-rigging, and so forth in Syracuse that we see at the state and national levels. But we can at least make sure city officials are not collecting paychecks while not doing their jobs.
The main issue is simple. The incumbent hasn't done the job. I will. This race is a voters' audit of the City Auditor.
As a Green Party member in a city where every elected office is now held by a Democrat, I will have the independence to provide checks and balances on city government. I will perform audits that may be unwelcome by some. But at least the public will know what's going on and the audits will help the Mayor, Common Council, and city departments and agencies do their jobs better if they want to.
The city charter requires the hiring of a Deputy City Auditor who is a professional – a Certified Public Accountant or a professional with three years experience in municipal auditing. The current Deputy Auditor, a crony of the Auditor, is not qualified. I will hire a qualified Deputy City Auditor so the City Auditor's Office does audits that meet the standards of the profession.
Innovation and Best Practices
I have been asked what unique perspectives a Green candidate brings to the City Auditors' job. While reminding the questioner that the main issue in this election is just doing what the city budget and charter require, as a Green I would bring innovations. In particular, I would add environmental audits and the tracking of indicators of economic welfare and environmental sustainability.
I would also borrow from the best practices of other municipalities. For example, I would introduce a Syracuse version of New York City's award-winning online "Checkbook NYC" transparency tool that tracks in real time the budget, revenue, expenditures, payroll, and contracts, including minority and women's business enterprise contracts.
But to do a "Checkbook Syracuse" website takes us back to doing the basic job of financial auditing. The city's finances are reported late. Late monthly financial statements make cash flow management guesswork. It takes an external auditing firm a year to reconcile the city's books. A "Checkbook Syracuse" website is not even possible until the financial reporting of the city is brought up to current U.S. Government Auditing Standards.
An important component of the City Auditor's job is to identify risks and recommend actions to reduce risks. City Auditor Masterpole has prioritized the city's skating rink and golf courses for his special audits. I will prioritize special audits that will have the most impact on the future of Syracuse, such as:
- Long Term Fiscal Outlook – projections and options for sustainable revenues
- Annual Tax Expenditure Report (Tax Breaks, "Corporate Welfare")
- Annual Living Wage Report (including city agencies and contractors not covered by the Living Wage Law)
- School Receivership – The fiscal, employment, and educational impact of 18 of 34 city schools being taken into receivership by the New York State Education Department for likely privatization as charter schools.
- School Segregation – Race and class segregation in city school attendance zones and between city and suburban districts.
- Predatory Lending and Community Reinvestment Act Compliance
- Implementation and Monitoring of the Equal Employment Opportunity Program
- Updating the 2008 Time Warner Cable Franchise Audit
- Updating the 2003 Audit of the Costs of Drug Law Enforcement by the Police Department
- Implementation of the 2014 "Ban the Box" ordinance
We Can Win
This election is a two-way race. No Republican is running. The Democratic incumbent will appear on Row A and I will appear on Row D. Rows B and C will be blank.
The incumbent spent over $66,000 winning the office against a Republican opponent in 2011. He spent most of it on five direct mailers. The Democratic State Committee tried to recycle a $45,000 donation from a PAC controlled by Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner back to Masterpole and other city Democratic candidates in order to get around campaign contribution limits for PACs. Masterpole received $4,000, above the $3,355 limit. After this was exposed, the candidates said they would return the money over the limit. But the day after the 2011 election, the Democratic State Committee gave Masterpole another $15,000. A month later, Masterpole sent $11,340 of the $19,000 total back to the State Democratic Committee. But that still left him with a net of receipt of $7,660, still $4,305 above the $3,355 contribution limit. And this man is charged with auditing Syracuse's finances!
The Democratic machine doesn't want an independent watchdog. They will make sure Masterpole has all the money he needs.
We can beat Masterpole with a quarter of what he spent in 2011. It will go toward direct mail, hand-out literature, yard signs, and facebook ads. I am working hard, knocking on doors and releasing statements at a series of news conferences.
If you live in the city of Syracuse, please use the enclosed contribution/volunteer form to indicate if you want a yard sign for your residence.
With your help, we can reach the voters, give them the choice of an honest alternative, and win this election.