Spitzer has brought an explosion of public attention to the race for comptroller. Good: It’s arguably the second most important office in city government and shouldn’t be handed to someone in a walkover. Maybe now we’ll have a conversation about the job — and job qualifications.
Until Sunday, Manhattan Borough President Stringer was looking at that walkover, with an unimpeded path to the Democratic nomination. This being New York, any Republican would be ignored and Stringer would be set.
But Spitzer’s entry upsets that plan. Now there will be discussion, there will be debates. The public will learn about pension funds, auditing city agencies and approving city contracts.
And John Burnett will get a chance to tell his story.
The seventh child of Southern migrants who met in New York, he was born in rough East New York (which he calls “Vietnam”) before the family moved to Queens Village. He now lives in Harlem.
Burnett was, he says, “an ‘oops’ baby.” Pregnant at 43, his mother faced complications: “Her doctor told her that if she had me she would die and I would die (this was 1969). My parents made the decision to have me.
“The way I look at it, most people aren’t given a shot after they’re born; I wasn’t given a shot before I was born.”
His parents grew up in the Jim Crow South — James in Durham, NC, and Mary in Savannah, Ga. Their experiences informs Burnett’s mantra of “No excuses” — “How can I say, ‘This is difficult,’ when my father had it 10 times as hard?”
Starting out as a dishwasher, his dad did his job super fast so he could watch the cook. He learned to cook himself and eventually became the chef for an entire hospital. Even after becoming a Pentacostal pastor, he continued as a chef because he didn’t believe in living off his congregation.
Burnett says, “He always told me. ‘Son, work to create your own breaks. Don’t depend on anyone for anything.’”