State Sen. Brian Benjamin also answered questions about his outside work for an investment firm.
State Sen. Brian Benjamin, a Democrat running to be city comptroller, told WBAI’s Max & Murphy Show on Wednesday that he would use that office’s audit powers to identify ways to reduce spending on the NYPD.
“I believe very strongly that the New York police department has to be looked at very seriously. We need police accountability, it’s one of the biggest issues that we are facing right now. We are completely concerned about systematic racism, racial inequity. You can’t have that conversation without talking about the police department,” he said. “So I want to audit the police department budget and root out the waste that is not helping us get to public safety.”
Benjamin, who is in his second term representing Harlem in the senate, also answered questions about his outside work for an investment firm, NextPoint Acquisition Corporation. That work has led some progressive groups to call for his removal as chair of the budget committee.
“Last year I was asked to sit on the board of a special purpose entity that is based out of Canada to look at potential acquisitions of companies that are not affiliated with New York,” Benjamin told Wednesday’s program. “I went to the New York Legislative Ethics Commission, talked to them about the issue, broke it down to them. They said they issued a comprehensive opinion that it was no conflict of interest in any way of me joining the board.”
“And I moved forward. I made sure that the companies we were looking at were in no way, shape or form involved with any businesses that were against my values, sub-prime mortgage lending, nothing of the sort. And that is what I have done. I don’t believe it’s a conflict of interest because the ethics commission said it wasn’t and in no way, are any of the businesses that are being looked at in New York or et cetera. So I feel very, very comfortable with that decision.”
Benjamin has also faced questions over his fundraising for the 2021 race after revelations that a number of people identified in his filings as donors did not recall giving to his campaign. Right now, he’s in a strong financial position in the race thanks to nearly a million dollars in public financing, with $1.5 million on hand at last report. Another comptroller candidate, Councilmember Brad Lander, reported $2.8 million in the bank. Assemblyman David Weprin had $295,000 and State Sen. Kevin Parker $81,000. Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, Zach Iscol, Terri Liftin and Reshma Patel are also in the race.
Last year’s city budget reduced funding to the NYPD by about a billion dollars, but the Independent Budget Office reported that most of the cuts were temporary, while a planned reduction in overtime spending was not guaranteed to materialize. Police-reform advocates argued that shifting functions like school safety from the NYPD’s books to other agencies’ did not really constitute defunding.
“I have the stance that says, I believe that the budget definitely needs to be defunded. What I feel like we need to do though, is we need to have a thorough audit to be very clear about what needs to be defunded because it’s not essential for public safety,” Benjamin said. “And for me, my frustration with the conversation right now is people are just throwing out numbers. And no, one’s starting with the facts that are driving the numbers.”
Hear the conversation with Benjamin below, or listen to the full show, which includes an interview with Weprin: