Working under three elected New York City comptrollers for 12 years, Carol Kostik was a stabilizing presence behind the scenes.
Kostik, deputy comptroller for public finance who announced her retirement Thursday, managed the issuance of more than $110 billion of city debt to fund capital projects and to refinance high-interest-rate bonds.
“It’s a great staff," she said in an interview Thursday. "They are data driven and dedicated to running a large program with integrity.”
The current comptroller, Scott Stringer, praised her for leading municipal market initiatives that brought greater competition to city bond sales, increasing finance-team diversity and building an investor information website with new tools.
"For over a decade and across three administrations, Carol Kostik served as deputy comptroller for public finance with deep respect and admiration of her peers – saving New York City billions, successfully seeing us through the 2008 financial crisis and ensuring the integrity of our debt program," Stringer said. "She is a trailblazer for women in public finance and I am proud to join my colleagues in and out of government in thanking Carol."
Her presence also provided continuity to the office throughout election cycles.
“Having the same deputy sends a message to investors and to the bond rating agencies,” Kostik said. “Each of the comptrollers I had were good and different. Working closely with them, you see how the path to being elected comptroller is different from my career, which was more nuts-and-bolts. It was very interesting to see how they approached going from A to B.”
William Thompson, the comptroller who hired her in 2006, called Kostik "a great person” and cited the degree of difficulty in working for three comptrollers.
"Not many people could have done that,” he said.
“Carol is one of the people that I can only say good things about. I am happy I had the opportunity to work with her. I really enjoyed it,” Thompson said.
“I have always thought of New York City as a client, so to speak, coming from an investment banking background,” Kostik said Thursday. Her last day is Aug. 31.
Kostik, 61, is the senior among the eight deputies in Stringer's office.
“I had one client, the city, and was able to dive deeply into finance and the budget and to think about how to get issuance prepared,” she said.
Kostik earned the Public Service Award from the Municipal Forum of New York in 2010 and the Freda Johnson Public Sector Award from Northeast Women in Public Finance in 2015, at The Bond Buyer’s Deal of the Year dinner.
The comptroller's office has begun a search for a replacement. Kostik said she has “no specific plans” after retirement.
Navigating through the financial crisis was both dramatic and rewarding to Kostik and her staff. “We were able to maintain market access and continue to put dollars into our capital program,” she said.
Kostik also pointed to the expansion of minority- and women-owned business enterprise firms doing business with the comptroller's office. “We feel very proud of the growing role of MWBE firms in New York City’s financing program," she said.
These firms, she said, had only 13% of book-running seats at the table in 2006. “Now it's at 31%,” she said. “All these firms have earned it.”
Her biggest disappointment is not getting City Hall to buy into Stringer’s green bonds proposal on which she ran point. Stringer made his proposal in 2014, his first year in office and two years after Hurricane Sandy struck.
“OMB [the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget] didn't want to do that,” she said.
Thompson's successor, John Liu, retained Kostik in 2010, as did Stringer in 2014.
"She always put the interests of the public above all else," said Liu, who referenced her simultaneous tenures at the comptroller's office and on local community boards. "Carol's retirement is not the last we'll see of her. It's the first we'll see of the next new exciting chapter in her life."
Kostik, before joining the comptroller’s office, was senior vice president and chief financial officer of the New York City Housing Development Corp., which issues bonds for affordable housing.
She was also the founding chief financial officer of the oversight board Nassau County Interim Finance Authority, and a vice president in Merrill Lynch & Co.'s public finance department, where she worked with a wide range of issuers in the mid-Atlantic states.
Kostik, who grew up in northern Virginia, fell in love with New York when she visited during an urban studies semester while at Williams College. She moved to the city after she earned her bachelor of arts degree in political economy from Williams.
She holds a master’s degree in business administration from Stanford University.
Challenges to the job have changed over time, according to Kostik, and include such new developments as social media and a more restrained environment for providers.
“I worry a little bit about wealth transfer," she said. "Will millennials be buying more bonds? Do they know we’re out there?”
Still, Kostik highly recommends a career in public finance.
“Absolutely,” she said. “You’re doing public service and you feel good about it. You’re in the arena, not just reading The Bond Buyer or The Wall Street Journal. You’re making decisions about how to execute a debt-management program.
“We plan to post the opening and I encourage people to look into it. It’s a great group of people attracted to public finance.”
-- Chip Barnett contributed to this report