Republican John Burnett called Democrat Scott Stringer too political for the job of New York City comptroller in the only televised debate between the candidates, while Stringer, invoking the federal government shutdown in Washington, accused Burnett's party of "trying to put New Yorkers out of business."

Stringer and Burnett, in an open-seat race, are vying for the office that oversees the city's bond program and five pension funds valued at $140 billion, and audits city agencies, among other tasks.

NY1 televised the debate Tuesday night.

Democrats outnumber Republicans 6-to-1 citywide. John Liu, who lost the Democratic mayoral primary, is vacating the office.

Stringer, Manhattan borough president, defeated former Gov. Eliot Spitzer in the Democratic primary while Burnett was unopposed in September.

Burnett, a 23-year Wall Street banker making his first run for public office, came out swinging while Stringer, in an otherwise low-key showing, cited his own experience as essential in working with a new mayor and City Council.

"I know you're new at this," Stringer told Burnett.

"You owe a ton of favors," Burnett told Stringer. "I'm surprised you even own your own soul. I shouldn't even be so presumptuous. You probably sold your own soul years ago."

Burnett also criticized Stringer's attendance record at New York City Employee Retirement System meetings.

"You didn't show up. You're a failure," he said.

"I don't have to comment on my own soul. I'm doing fine," said Stringer, who said he sent representatives to NYCERS meetings.

NYCERS is one of the five municipal pension funds.

"This is real work I did. It was government work, but it made a difference in people's lives," said Stringer, referencing audits his own staff conducted. Stringer has been borough president since 2006 and before that, a 13-year state assemblyman serving Manhattan's West Side.

Both candidates said they would try to reduce banking fee costs. Stringer wants to expand asset-management functions in-house while Burnett wants to involve more mid-tier firms.

Stringer said part of the comptroller's job is to monitor Washington. "This is about a national emergency. The Republicans' attempt to shut down the government affects the national, international and city markets," he said of the impasse.

"About 26,000 people have been furloughed in New York City. Nutrition and other programs are in danger," Stringer said. "We have $40 billion in fixed-income securities in jeopardy if the U.S. defaults. This has an impact on the pension funds as well. If we default and the Republicans do not let go, there are serious consequences for New York City."

Stringer also said he would audit money the city receives as reimbursement from the federal government and insurance companies related to Hurricane Sandy costs.

Burnett distanced himself from the national Republicans. "I would not have held my party hostage," he said.

Stringer was noncommittal about retroactive back pay for city employees who have worked without contracts for three to five years.

"For the new mayor, everything should be on the table," he said. "We have to look at what we can and cannot afford. We have to make sure workers get the compensation they deserve, but within an affordable budget."

Burnett, who opposes such back pay, said workers would lose 49% of it through taxation.

"Why start lobbying for retroactive pay when half of it will be gone?" he said.

About 750 employees work in the comptroller's office, many of whom will remain even with a change at the top.

Subscribe Now

Independent and authoritative analysis and perspective for the bond buying industry.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.