Alan Hevesi on Money, Politics and Retirement
Alan Hevesi, the former state lawmaker, New York City comptroller and New York State comptroller, was back in the public eye this week—at least briefly—to give a talk in his former Queens Assembly district.
The discussion, held at the Hevesi Library at the Central Queens Y, focused on the roots of U.S. democracy, congressional gridlock and the 2014 elections. Hevesi gave only passing mention to the abrupt halt to his own political career in 2006, when he pleaded guilty to using state employees to chauffeur his wife, and his 2010 guilty plea for participating in a corruption scheme involving the state’s massive pension fund.
On Monday, following what was his first public appearance since his release from jail in late 2012, Hevesi took a number of questions from reporters. The following is an edited transcript.
Q: Is this the first time you’ve had a public speaking engagement? Why now?
A: Because they asked me. I come to the lectures. I’m a regular here, and the Y is an extraordinary place, a wonderful place. We jointly thought it was a good idea. I thought, why not try it? It’s been a long time.
Q: Why stay out of the public eye until now?
A: I had a great career, loved almost every minute of it, and I have no ambition any more to be in the public eye. I’m a grandfather, and that’s the joy of my life—other than my kids, too, but they’re not as cute as they used to be. So, just the luck of the draw.
Q: Obviously, you’ve been keeping up on national politics, huh?
A: Well, I didn’t retire as a groupie. No, I follow it, I love it. Politics is great. I follow the Knicks too, you want to know what I think about them?
Q: Why not talk about any state or local offices?
A: This was the topic of interest, and it was immediate, with the national election that has real significance. The local elections here in New York, they’re interesting, and they’re pro forma, and I will look at the results too, and root for friends of mine, for my former colleagues. But I don’t think there’s a lot of drama there. But these issues here are about how the culture has changed in the Congress and the tenor of the elections themselves and what that means for the presidential in two years, I thought that was significant.
Q: No comeback in the works?
A: No, no comeback.
Q: You talked about redistricting earlier, and that’s a timely issue in New York, where a proposition to change the process is on the ballot. Do we need redistricting reform?
A: If you believe in fairness, you have to understand that by definition, redistricting has become, all over the country, an unfair process. There are ways to do it now with computers where you can have real good, random redistricting that doesn’t favor one side or the other automatically, and let the candidates debate each other, and let that be the way decisions are made.
Q: On the topic of money in politics, you mentioned the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling. One assumption was that campaign contributions would be transparent. Has it played out that way?
A: No, after Citizens United you can create any kind of organization that doesn’t have to disclose who contributes and who gets what money. I’m hearing radio ads in my car for a particular candidate, and the final comment is, “We are connected to no candidate or political party or political interest, but vote for Smith.”
Q: Have been paying any attention to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s reelection campaign, or the battle for the state Senate?
A: No. Just likely any typical citizen, and, no, I have no insight. I’m a private citizen.
Q: As a private citizen, were you surprised by the reports of meddling in Cuomo’s Moreland Commission? Or the reports of investigations into state lawmakers?
A: I’m not commenting on that.
Q: What are you doing in your retirement? Any teaching?
A: I’m doing a lot of family stuff. The family suffered when I was away in the Legislature, and as comptroller I was away a great deal. They stood by me through the troubled times, and I am going to focus on them.
Q: Do you miss being in the political arena?
A: I miss it tremendously. I loved it. I had a great career, and a couple of bumps in the road. I accomplished a lot. I’m proud of that. I had not intended to retire.
Q: How have you been received in your community?
A: My constituency, they voted for me for 23 years in the Assembly. They’re good friends. They’ve been loyal and supportive through thick and thin. There’s no anxiety to go out in New York City or in my neighborhood.
Q: One New York issue that ties in with your comments on money in politics at the national level is public financing of campaigns. Do you support that?
A: I voted for public financing many times. We passed it in the Assembly any number of times. It’s also to the advantage of incumbents. Nothing is absolutely neutral. Incumbents who have been in office for a while, and have their constituencies in the habit of voting for them, and have the resources as an opponent, have an advantage. But it’s better than whoever can raise lots of money from interest groups that have an agenda that’s not a public agenda.
Q: How is your health?
A: It’s okay. I’m old. I have aches and pains. I’m 74.
Q: Do you think Hillary Clinton will win the presidency in 2016?
Q: Are you barred from holding public office?
Q: It has been eight years since you resigned in 2006. Any reflections now on how that played out?