The election of a new city comptroller is more than two years away and already candidates are jockeying for contributions and support, grasping for ways to distinguish themselves in a field certain to become more crowded in the coming months.
Mayor Bloomberg could play a key role in the race. Although he's made no endorsements, he hosted a fund-raiser at his Upper East Side home for a City Council member of Brooklyn, Simcha Felder, a likely candidate.
Mr. Felder, a certified public accountant who said he is "very seriously exploring a race for the comptroller's office," said tickets to last month's fund-raiser cost $4,950, the most a candidate for mayor, public advocate, or comptroller is allowed to accept.
"Simcha has been supportive of the mayor and the mayor thinks Simcha has a contribution to be made going forward," a spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg, Stuart Loeser, said. "We generally don't comment on fund-raisers."
Two other council members, David Weprin, chairman of the finance committee, and Melinda Katz, chairwoman of the land use committee, and a veteran assemblyman, James Brennan, have officially declared their candidacies.
In addition to Mr. Felder, Council Member John Liu, chairman of the transportation committee, and the city 's finance commissioner, Martha Stark, are considered potential candidates for the post, viewed as a launching pad for a mayoral bid.
Ms. Stark was defeated by Thomas DiNapoli in the race for state comptroller earlier this year. A spokesman for Ms. Stark said she is not running for comptroller.
Upcoming races for citywide positions are expected to be exceptionally crowded in 2009. Thirty-six of the council's 51 members face term limits that year, and many are eyeing the comptroller, public advocate, and borough president races with interest.
Other names being floated for comptroller are the president of the Bronx, Adolfo Carrion, Manhattan's president, Scott Stringer, and a former council member, Eva Moskowitz, who lost her 2005 bid to be Manhattan's president.
Mr. Carrion is considered a likely mayoral candidate, but some political observers say he could join the comptroller's race if he opts out of the other contest.
Ms. Moskowitz is believed to be contemplating a citywide race of some kind and Mr. Stringer, some say, might abandon his post for the comptroller's race to avoid an unpleasant option when he is termed out of office in 2013 (provided he is reelected Manhattan president): challenging an incumbent for citywide office.
The dean at Baruch College's school of public affairs, David Birdsell, said term limits are the only explanation for the expanding field.
"There are going to be lots of people chasing very few positions," he said. "You can well assume these are going to be very crowded races."
Although several candidates and likely candidates said having a plethora of candidates is good for voters and democracy, Mr. Birdsell cautioned that voters, like consumers, are paralyzed when faced with too many choices.
Unless candidates promote dramatically different platforms, Mr. Birdsell said he's not certain "there are going to be additional meaningful choices even if you do have a proliferation of candidates."
The comptroller is the city's chief financial officer, charged with auditing city agencies and managing five city pension funds, which total nearly $105 billion. Unlike the state comptroller, the sole trustee of the state's pension funds, the city's pensions are governed by trustee boards, which include representatives from the mayor's administration and unions.
The position has been used in various ways depending on who is in office. Former Comptroller Alan Hevesi, was a thorn in the side of Mayor Giuliani, publicly criticizing his spending decisions and policies.
Comptroller William Thompson Jr., a potential candidate for mayor, has maintained a more congenial relationship with Mayor Bloomberg — a dynamic one government observer said could be attributed to the city's flush budget and the legacy of the September 11, 2001, attacks.
"When there's scarcer public dollars and pretty hard decisions to make about how to spend" the comptroller can serve as a watchdog, the executive director of Citizens Union, Dick Dadey, said. After September 11, "there was a consensus to work together to solve the city's fiscal crisis and not publicly throw stones. And that worked."
The most recent campaign finance reports include fund-raising figures through January 16. They show Mr. Weprin with more than $1 million, while Ms. Katz collected $665,702, and Mr. Brennan pulled in $209,289. The next statements are due in July.