Gerald Lewis still remembers being the outsider. In 1974, he was the high-minded reformer who was going to clean house in the state comptroller's office. Now, after 16 years in office, Lewis is widely reputed to be the consummate insider, and someone else is playing his old part: Republican Chris Comstock of St. Petersburg, who is seeking Lewis' job.
Lewis, who once camped outside his predecessor's office to force him to acknowledge misdeeds, now finds himself besieged by Comstock's accusations that he has grown cozy with the financial industries he oversees. The comptroller is the state's chief regulator of banks and stocks.
For Lewis, the timing hardly could be worse. With the country amid a savings and loan crisis, government financial fumbling is high on people's lists of aggravations. So voters tend to remember Comstock's message that Lewis was going easy on S & L executives.
Especially executives such as David Paul, the big-spending former chairman of failed CenTrust Savings Bank. Paul was a fund-raiser for Lewis' 1986 re-election campaign at a time when Paul's S & L was financially troubled. The taxpayer bailout of CenTrust is expected to cost about $2-billion.
The problem for Comstock is that hardly anyone is hearing his message.
Comstock, who has not run for office before, has campaigned actively but has attracted little grass-roots support and hardly any money.
Comstock's non-political qualifications also are less than overwhelming. He boasts of 22 years of experience in the financial industry, but little of that time was in upper management. He says he helped turn around a failing financial institution, the Municipal Credit Union in New York City, but that was in the late 1970s. He is a financial adviser for A. G. Edwards & Sons in St. Petersburg.
Comstock also has raised eyebrows by proposing that the banking division of the comptroller's office be moved to the office of the secretary of state.
For his part, Lewis says his record is good, despite the national mood of retribution. He acknowledges problems in his office in the early 1980s, when federal authorities investigated allegations that Lewis aides were shaking down financial institutions for campaign contributions.
But those problems are in the past, he says. Lewis says he has done a better job of regulating financial institutions than his counterparts in the federal government.
Of course, a lot of those federal regulators no longer have jobs. Lewis hopes voters are more forgiving.
_ JOHN D. McKINNON
The state comptroller oversees the Department of Banking and Finance and serves on the state Cabinet. The department has two main duties: to regulate the financial industry in the state _ including banks and investment houses _ and to pay state government's bills. The department also regulates cemeteries. The job will pay $94,040 a year as of January.
GERALD LEWIS, 56, was born in Birmingham, Ala., and graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He practiced law in Miami and served in the state House of Representatives and state Senate. After losing his bid for a seat on the Public Service Commission, he worked for two years as a prosecutor. He was elected state comptroller in 1974 and has been re-elected three times. Lewis is married and has three children. ASSETS: Home, investment real estate, savings, stock. LIABILITIES: Three mortgages loans, two other loans. INCOME: Comptroller's salary, income from a family trust, rental income.
CHRIS COMSTOCK, 47, lives in St. Petersburg and works as a financial adviser for the brokerage firm A. G. Edwards & Sons. He graduated from the University of Miami in 1966 and took finance-related graduate courses at American University. He is a certified financial planner and information systems auditor. He has worked for the New York state Department of Banking, the Municipal Credit Union of New York, several brokerages, an accounting firm and a bank. He is married and has a son. ASSETS: Home, savings, stocks, bonds. LIABILITIES: Two loans. INCOME: Employer.