The squint that sometimes wrinkles his brow could easily be mistaken for a scowl, but H. Carl McCall is far too confident to be angry. These days, he strides soulfully and carries a big stick known as leverage; and in the world of politics, leverage is one of the most powerful forms of currency. And Carl McCall has been on quite a spending spree.
McCall, the sole trustee of the more than $107 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF), is using the strength of the fund to command the attention of corporate giants like Texaco and Columbia HCA. “When I call up and say I’d like to talk to the CEO of a company and he looks on his screen and sees that we own more than 1 million shares of his stock, he says, ‘How soon can we talk?'”
How soon indeed. Since 1993, when the state Legislature chose him to replace Republican Edward V. Regan who retired in midterm, McCall has quietly elevated a relatively low-profile position in state government to a visible seat of activist power. By using a series of economic development and community investment programs, precedent-setting legal actions and backroom negotiations, he has leveraged his role as New York State comptroller into that of a power broker, influencing corporate decision-making, as well as state and local government policies–all for the benefit of New York State workers, retirees and their communities.
If you scoff at the notion that a position some see as only “head bean counter” could actually become a political force, consider this: he has confronted corporate America on the issues of diversity and corporate citizenship, and as the sole trustee of the NYSCRF, he has almost doubled its value to more than $107 billion-an accomplishment that will keep it fully funded far into the future. And more than that, he’s poised to indirectly play an even greater role in improving the fortunes of African Americans everywhere. McCall is making the case for what we will call fiscal activism — the practice of aggressively using sound financial principles to safeguard and achieve civil rights for American citizens. Note that fiscal activism not only benefits African Americans, but also persons of any race, religion or sex. But at a time when more people are becoming less inclined to defend affirmative action, McCall has used fiscal activism to achieve affirmative action’s desired effect–showing that inclusion ultimately enhances bottom-line profits.
But to continue wielding such influence, McCall must get himself reelected on November 3. In 1994, he beat the odds to become the first black elected to statewide office in New York. He also happens to be the only current Democratic statewide office holder. With New York’s popular Gov. George Pataki pushing for a Republican sweep to help him ascend to national office, McCall is under tremendous pressure to remain the lone bright spot in New York’s shaken Democratic leadership. He faces little-known challenger Bruce Blakeman, the presiding officer of the Nassau County legislature. Blakeman, 42, was handpicked by