Just a few months ago, it was an article of faith among the know-it-alls that the city comptroller's race would be fought between council incumbents Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III and Jacqueline F. McLean. Then the AFL-CIO's endorsement went to Mary W. Conaway, the city's register of wills and pastor of a United Methodist church. Suddenly a keen three-way race has emerged for one of the city's most important elective offices.
What does the city comptroller do? It depends on the office holder. Hyman A. Pressman, who is retiring after 28 years as city comptroller, was initially elected as a rabble-rousing activist lawyer. In his early years he grabbed headlines with his discoveries of misspent taxpayers' dollars and other irregularities. He also penned rhymes, donned funny hats and seldom missed a parade. In his waning days, he became a mere signature at the end of the Board of Estimates minutes.
Mr. Pressman's successor is likely to reassert the power of the $53,000-a-year post. That clout comes from the comptroller directing a posse of 55 auditors who, supplanted with outside experts, review city agencies' books once a year. The comptroller also runs the 11-employee city real estate department, decides who should get the government's considerable insurance business and sits on the boards of all municipal pension systems.