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Albany County Comptroller's Race: Sparks Fly At City Hall

Albany Chief Auditor Susan Rizzo outside Albany City Hall.
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Albany Chief Auditor Susan Rizzo outside Albany City Hall.

A press conference outside Albany city hall Thursday morphed into a confrontation inside between two candidates for county comptroller.

In January, Albany City Treasurer Darius Shahinfar announced a run for the Albany County Comptroller's post being vacated by Mile Conners, who is retiring at the end of the year. Within 24 hours, first-term Albany Chief City Auditor Susan Rizzo announced she too would run.

A month before the pivotal Democratic primary, Rizzo held a press conference on the sidewalk outside city hall, trying to draw attention to what she characterized as "the pattern of fiscal mismanagement at City Hall."   "The Office of Audit and Control has completed six audits, which have been posted to the department's website.  A seventh, a recent $26 million serial bond issuance for the purchase of the city streetlights has been completed. Departmental response was received late last night for review and comment. This six-page response was posted on Facebook before it was reviewed by OAC and before the Office of Audit and Control even had a chance to respond. What has been uncovered is a pattern of financial mismanagement. My team of qualified professionals has helped recover or point out over a million dollars in either missed opportunities from poor past management or direct cost savings by way of refunds to the city or decreased expenses going forward."

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Albany City Treasurer Darius Shahinfar asked Chief Auditor Susan Rizzo to leave the office where he was speaking with reporters.

Rizzo's words didn't set well with Shahinfar. One of his campaign people invited reporters inside to speak with him.  Rizzo wanted in as well. 

Rizzo stood her ground, refusing to leave. Shahinfar criticized Rizzo's streetlight bond audit, saying its conclusions were erroneous and "a tremendous waste of time." He added the city made the right decision in bonding early.   "We had to make sure that we had the best interest rate possible, which is why we explained repeatedly over the term of this streetlight purchase why we trying to get this bond authorization authorized early and why we wanted to go out to bond early. We also didn't know whether or not we were going to receive the $12 million from the state. And if we don't receive the $12 million from the state or a portion of that, what would that do to interest rates? They would spike at that point too.  Interest rates determined when we went out to bond. And whether or not the deal closes this month, next month, the month after that, the savings are the same. We don't pay off anything on the bond until starting next year and the bond will be paid off earlier, at the end of the term."

He added the city got a good interest rate of 2.83 percent; initial estimates were 3.15 to 3.25 percent.

Shahinfar says “circumstances” have led to his office and Rizzo's communicating via email.  "They've been particularly nasty and conclusory on many occasions."

After interviews concluded, Shahinfar bristled as a Rizzo campaign aide accused Shahinfar of keeping two sets of books. He then ordered the aide, Anton Konev, out of the office.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan's Chief of Staff Brian Shea commented on the dustup via email, writing:

“It is extremely frustrating trying to respond to someone who has no formal audit training or credentials and who has seemingly no interest in understanding long established government auditing standards. We will continue to urge the City Auditor to seek the proper training as her predecessor did so that she can effectively do the job the people of Albany pay her to do.”

Rizzo and Shahinfar were scheduled to appear later Thursday at an NAACP candidates forum in Albany's South End.

The Democratic Primary is June 25th.

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