As Testimony Starts, Spitzer's Comptroller Pick Faces Questions About His Old Job

Bill Mulrow, the down-to-earth public-private finance whiz, will be the first of — count 'em — seventeen hopefuls testifying in Albany today and tomorrow in hopes of filling Alan Hevesi's sullied shoes as state comptroller. But as Mulrow was preparing his opening remarks last night, he was also planning to address questions that have been raised about his former employer, Gabelli Asset Management, a Rye-based mutual-fund company that has been plagued by recent scandals, investigations, and a $100 million shareholder lawsuit.

A campaign adviser to his close friend Eliot Spitzer, Mulrow has a polished resume and is widely considered by politicos to be the Spitz's top choice to replace Hevesi, especially because of Mulrow's private-sector experience. But there are many — including some of his competitors for the gig — who want to know what funds he worked on while serving as a senior vice-president at Gabelli and about his association with his embattled former boss, the charismatic and well-known money manager Mario "Super Mario" Gabelli.

In 2005, the Spitzer campaign returned $24,000 in campaign donations from Gabelli because they learned his company was the target of an SEC probe after complaints that shareholder money wasn't being properly handled and that Gabelli was taking too much for himself in compensation. Last May, according to Fortune, Gabelli shelled out some $100 million to settle the shareholder's case against him. Then, in June, Gabelli and his many companies shelled out a reported $130 million or more to settle another lingering lawsuit, this one filed by the FCC, which claimed he deceived the government by using sham companies to win lucrative cell-phone licenses earmarked small and minority-owned businesses.

Mulrow has not been implicated in any wrongdoing. The sham auctions took place between 1995 and 2000, according to the Washington Post. Mulrow joined Gabelli in April 1999 and left in September 2005. According to press releases from Gabelli, he was first brought on to "enhance the firm's asset-gathering efforts," and by 2004, after his failed bid to beat Alan Hevesi in 2002, Mulrow had assumed the title of senior vice-president for institutional marketing and was also charged with handling new closed-end funds.

"Bill Mulrow has a keen financier's savvy of the political turf and an astute politician's understanding of the finance industry — and how they intertwine on a fairly regular basis," Gabelli said in a press release at the time. "His experience and contacts in these two worlds are exceptional." No doubt Mulrow is currently hoping lawmakers in Albany feel likewise.
Geoffrey Gray