You’re a Democrat, like virtually everyone else in the city, and so you assumed you’d be voting for Alan Hevesi. But now you’re not sure you can, now that you know the state’s top accountant was spending public money to chauffeur his wife. But, at the same time, can you bring yourself to vote for this other guy, Chris Callaghan? Who is he? Is he competent, or just the candidate who didn’t break the law? And what if you do hold your nose and pull the Hevesi lever today, will that ensure, even if he’s later removed from office, that at least some other Democrat gets the gig?
J. Christopher Callaghan was the Saratoga County treasurer from 1997 until he resigned this summer to concentrate on the comptroller’s race. During that time, he didn’t attract much notice but did develop a reputation as a bit of a miser, both by the public and by his wife, to whom he famously denied an electric pencil sharpener when she worked in his office. His bio lists a dizzying array of memberships on councils and boards, all conservative-leaning, and hints at the level of his fervor by citing the fact that he became the president of his local Young Republican party in the heady year of 1969.
Callaghan has had no damaging ethical allegations brought against him during this race — that business you may have heard about his putting the wrong address on a second-home mortgage application had broken legs before it left the gate — and he is, by all accounts, a hard-working Christian with a wife, three children, and six grandchildren.
Problem is, there seems to be little confidence Callaghan can do the comptroller’s job, which includes serving as sole trustee of the state’s enormous pension fund. The Times, which reversed its nomination from Hevesi to Callaghan after the chauffeuring scandal emerged in full, had to admit that Callahan was entirely unimpressive in interviews and debates, “hardly the man whom voters would normally want to hire as the state’s chief fiscal officer and sole trustee of New York’s $140-billion trust fund.” Going from glorified accountant — with a staff of roughly a dozen — to the supervisor of one of the largest and most complex investment entities in the world, where he’d head a staff of 2,400, would be a mighty leap, the paper suggested. The Daily News on Sunday called Callahan a “small-town government accountant [who] lacks the qualifications to be comptroller,” noting that his fitness — that is the lack of fitness that almost everyone agreed on pre-scandal — has not changed just because Hevesi’s moral standing has.
Some Dems are counting on the idea that reelecting Hevesi — no matter what happens to him post-election — will ensure a Democrat as comptroller. Because even if he’s ousted or resigns, Elliot Spitzer, the shoo-in for governor, would surely appoint a qualified Democrat to replace him. And, yes, that’s one scenario. But another, in these murky legal waters, suggests that reelecting Hevesi might keep him there for good. After all, the thinking here goes, if he’s reelected by voters who know the ills he’s accused of, what gives the legislature the right to overrule that?
— Hope Reeves