State pension funds will remain with companies that do business in South Africa despite renewed objections by African National Congress Deputy President Nelson Mandela, State Comptroller Edward V. Regan said Monday.
Gov. Cuomo told reporters Monday that when he spoke to Mandela about divestiture, Mandela "said over and over . . . that of course the sanctions were helpful and the idea of relieving pressure is exactly wrong."
"Who's going to debate Nelson Mandela on the subject -- Ned Regan?" Cuomo asked reporters Monday.
Each year, the Democrat-led Assembly passes legislation proposed by Cuomo that would mandate South African divestiture, but the proposal has never reached the floor of the Republican-led Senate.
"It's been on every list (of bills) we ever gave" the Legislature's top leaders, the governor said Monday. "We have never taken it off. We've never stopped arguing for it. . . . We've never stopped negotiating."
Despite claims by Cuomo and his staff, however, Regan said the governor has not lobbied him on divestiture this year. " 'Has there been any discussion about it?' No," Regan said in an interview.
Sources in the Legislature wonder whether talks ever started this year. Others say the subject has been raised only briefly and sporadically among the governor, the legislative leaders and their top aides.
"I've always said that if the governor wanted (his legislation) to pass he would have campaigned for it like he does everything else," Assembly Deputy Speaker Arthur O. Eve said.
"He could be creating the issue traveling throughout the state, beating up on the comptroller and the Senate -- really creating public opinion" to get the legislation approved, Eve said.
"I hope that after this trip (to meet Mandela) that he might do that. There's a short period now before the (legislative) session and if it doesn't pass he should make that an issue in his campaign."
Former New York City Comptroller Carol Bellamy, who helped engineer the divestiture of New York City stocks in the early 1980s, said she plans to make it an issue in her campaign against Regan.
"Ned Regan is behind the times," the Brooklyn Democrat said. "It's another example of his failure to provide the leadership that has been provided by pension trustees around the country."
Regan, on the other hand, claims that number is quite small. Of 2,500 state and local government pension systems in the country, only 84 have divested from South African companies, while none of the nation's 22,000 private pension plans have followed suit, he said.
Regan, who has sole control over the nation's second-largest pension fund, said he cannot justify the $200 million price tag of such divestiture. That loss, Regan said, would violate his fiduciary responsibility to the fund and to retirees.
The comptroller said he agrees with Mandela that economic sanctions have hurt the South African government and have chipped away at that country's policy of apartheid. But New York might actually slow that progress if it withdraws $2 billion in pension funds from 43 companies that operate in South Africa, Regan said.
Those companies, Regan said, "would be thrilled because their stock (would not) lose any value and secondly it would be bought by people who obviously don't give a damn" about South Africa's policies.
"They (would have) gotten rid of a socially conscious pain in the neck, and their stock (would have) been disbursed to dozens of individuals who will never bother them again."