Editorial: Candidate finances are fair game

Hochul raises legitimate questions in lieutenant governor's race
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul in Saratoga Springs in February
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul in Saratoga Springs in February

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

If you’re running for a government office that requires you to manage finances, then how you manage your own finances is fair game for criticism from your opponents.

Voters can decide for themselves whether the information is relevant to them. But as for whether it’s a legitimate issue to raise before voters, it certainly is.

Jumaane Williams, a candidate for lieutenant governor in the Sept. 13 state Democratic primary, is objecting to a TV ad run by his opponent, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, pointing out that Williams, a member of the New York City Council, owes more than $10,000 in back taxes to the state and has a $625,000 unpaid loan related to a defunct restaurant he once owned. The ad also points out that Williams lost his house to foreclosure.

The information for the ad came from newspaper articles published about Williams, most recently in the New York Post, which cited state tax department records and court records.

At the end of the 30-second ad, Hochul poses the question: “If he can’t manage his own finances, do you really want him managing yours?”

In response, Williams and his running mate, actress/activist Cynthia Nixon, are demanding Hochul pull the ad, calling it “offensive,” “deceptive” and “poor-shaming.” “It’s incredibly offensive to say that someone is unqualified for public office because their small business shuttered, or because they are going through a foreclosure,” the two said in a joint statement.

Other supporters of the Nixon-Williams team commenting online said they thought the ad was inappropriate and even racist because it singled out a black candidate for being poor.

Sorry. But how one manages their personal finances is a relevant topic to bring up in a political campaign. As long as the information is true, there’s nothing wrong with Hochul pointing out her opponent’s perceived failings and asking voters if they trust a candidate with that kind of personal financial baggage to manage the state’s finances.

One supporter of Williams wondered if Hochul would be asking the same question if her opponent was white. Why wouldn’t she?

Why do you think candidates are always demanding to see each other’s tax returns? They hope the information revealed in those documents will give voters insight not only into how candidates manage their personal and business finances, but also who they have financial dealings with and whether these relationships represent conflicts of interest.

Let the voters decide if the information in the ads is relevant to them and whether it’s appropriate information for opponents to point out in their ads.

If you’re going to seek political office, certain aspects of your personal life are going to be exposed and subjected to scrutiny. Politics is hardly ever polite.

If you don’t want someone criticizing you for how you manage your finances, either be prepared to defend yourself or don’t run.

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