For comptroller, Pratt is the best Democrat

September 01, 1999

JOAN M. PRATT, who was elected city comptroller in 1995, is The Sun's Democratic nominee for City Hall's No. 3 leadership position in the Sept. 14 primary.

Her token opponent is Melvin J. Brechin, a construction superintendent who has no compelling agenda or realistic chance for an election upset.

Has Ms. Pratt been a good city comptroller?

That's a difficult question to answer, not because Ms. Pratt lacks substance but because she is competing with the images of the past.

Unlike the late Hyman Pressman, a shameless self-promoter who created an impression as a public watchdog, she is no showboat. Neither does she project the brassy image of Jacqueline McLean (before the latter ran into trouble with the law). Indeed, Ms. Pratt is so demure her demeanor is sometimes taken for lack of self-confidence.

Then there is the question of what might have been: Many supporters of Julian Lapides, her unsuccessful 1995 primary opponent, still measure her against what they think the former state senator would have done in a given situation.

Among Ms. Pratt's achievements during her first term has been her effort to bring some order to the city's real estate matters. But the more she and her real estate officer, Anthony J. Ambridge, have tried, the more they have encountered resistance from department heads who answer to the mayor.

The last charter revision commission recommended that the finance department manage the city's real estate portfolio. Yet the fact is that the function remains with the comptroller's office.

Ms. Pratt is trying to deal with the difficulties of moving toward computerization of all city holdings and leases. She cannot successfully complete this daunting task so long as department heads feel free to challenge her and the mayor does not intervene.

This is a matter the next mayor has to resolve. The city could save millions of dollars if all municipal real estate transactions were handled by the comptroller's office.

In the next term, the comptroller also should work aggressively for more regular performance audits of the city bureaucracy.

Early this year, Ms. Pratt was mentioned as a possible candidate for mayor. She backed away from running. "As comptroller, there's some work that I started that I want to finish," she explained. "I think with a second term as comptroller, it will prepare me to lead the city as mayor."

With Ms. Pratt's primary and general election victories against token opposition virtually ensured, she is essentially running against the high expectations that time and circumstances have set for her.

Pub Date: 09/01/99

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