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Meet the man who keeps New York City afloat Featured

Jacques Jiha was appointed Commissioner of New York City’s Department of Finance by
Mayor Bill de Blasio on April 8, 2014. Prior to becoming Commissioner, Mr. Jiha was the Executive Vice President / Chief Operating Officer & Chief Financial Officer of Earl G. Graves, Ltd., a multi-media company with properties in print, digital media, television, events and the internet. A staunch advocate of public service, Mr. Jiha served on a number of government and not-for-profit boards. He was a board member of the Ronald McDonald House of New York, a board member of Public Health Solutions and a trustee of the Public Health Solutions Retirement Trust, a member of the Investment Advisory Committee of the New York Common Retirement Fund, and he was also the Secretary of the board of the New York State Dormitory Authority – one the largest issuers of municipal debt in the country on behalf of public and private universities and medical institutions, and the State of New York. He holds a Ph.D. and a Master’s degree in Economics from the New School for Social Research and a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Fordham University.
 
Haitianbeatz, had unique opportunity to sit down with the Commissioner: 
 
 
Can you please give a little background of yourself?
 
- I moved to Brooklyn, NY from Haiti at 21, and attended Fordham University receiving my undergraduate degree in Economics. Working as parking lot attendant in Manhattan is how I paid for school. I earned my Master’s degree as well as my doctorate in Economics from The New School. My first job in politics was as Principal Economist for the New York State Assembly Committee on Ways and Means.  I went on to become the chief economist for the New York City’s Comptroller’s Office. Thereafter, I became the New York City Deputy Comptroller for Budget. I moved back to Albany as New York State’s Chief Investment Officer and Deputy Comptroller for Public Finance in charge of the second largest pension fund in the country, worth $120 billion at the time. Before joining the Department of Finance in April 2014, I was the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer of Earl G. Graves, Ltd, a multi-media company with properties in print, digital media, television, events and the Internet.
 
I am very passionate about public service. I have also served on a number of government and not-for-profit boards such as the Ronald McDonald House of New York, Public Health Solutions and the New York State Dormitory Authority.
 
Being the Commissioner of Finance in the biggest city of the world, what is your role responsibility exactly? 
 
- My main responsibility is to provide the city with the resources it needs to finance its operations, including the New York City Police Department, the Fire Department, and teachers’ salaries, for example. As an agency we collect more than $34 billion in revenue for the city, including property taxes, business taxes and parking tickets. We also value more than $1 trillion worth of property and advise the mayor on the public pensions, which amount to about $160 billion. We also manage the city register, which is where deeds and property are recorded, and maintain the city's treasury with a daily cash balance of about $10 billion. In addition through the sheriff’s office, we serve as the chief civil enforcement office for the city.
 
Even though you are managing a huge budget, still there is a check and balance. In Haiti where there is always a mistrust of the government when it comes to finance, what can Haiti borrow from your experience to help the country get rid of this stigma? 
 
- You said it – Independent check and balance systems have to be in place. In the Department of Finance we have our own internal control division to ensure that rules, regulations, and processes are followed.  In addition, there are a number of independent monitors, including the city council, New York City Comptroller, the New York State Comptroller as well as independent auditors. Governments function best where there is a system of checks and balances in place.
 
One of the things that is lacking in the Haitian community in New York, is lack of prominent Haitian businesses, what advise would you give to a young business major graduate if he/she wanted to invest in his or her community?
 
- The success and sustainability of any community is a strong economic base. We have to encourage young Haitian entrepreneurs to create that base by opening up new businesses and participating in the American economy. Not only will they create wealth for themselves, they will be able to provide jobs and serve as role models for the next generation. When I look at the pipeline of young Haitians coming up, I am very optimistic about our future in this country. I would advise young people to stay in school; develop a strong work ethic, and embrace your culture. It will serve you well. 
 
How did you learn that Mayor de Blasio wanted you to be his finance Commissioner, walk us through the process?
 
- An old colleague in the Mayor’s office reached out to me. They were looking for someone with my skills, experience, and sensitivity. I met with the Mayor and his deputies and after deliberation – two weeks later – I was offered the position. I was hesitant at first because it was a major financial sacrifice to leave the private sector. I thought about it for a while, and then decided to proceed with the process. I felt like this was an opportunity to give back to a city that had given so much to me. I have grown and benefitted greatly here – from having the opportunity to earn a Ph.D and eventually becoming the Chief Operating Officer & Chief Financial Officer of a multi-media company. 
 
Besides having named a few Haitian American Commissioners, how is the relationship between de Blasio and the Haitian Community here in New York? 
 
- Mayor De Blasio has a great relationship with the Haitian community. He continues

to show support to Haitians in New York and abroad. A good example was his support for the Haitian community in the Dominican Republic in their moments of need. He is not just talk, he has appointed professionals of Haitian descent to significant posts in his administration: Mitchell Silver, Commissioner of the NYC Parks Department; Gary Rodney, President of the New York City Housing Development Corporation; Rosemonde Pierre-Louis, former Commissioner of NYC Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence and now Senior Adviser on Gender Equity; and me as the Department of Finance Commissioner. Diversity impacts leadership. 
 
One of the most common criticisms of the Haitian community here in New York, is that it lacks leadership, however we do have Haitians in high levels in different part of this big city, why do you think there is a leadership vacuum? 
 
- I wouldn’t say there is a leadership vacuum; there are a lot of Haitians doing great things here.  Remember, we are an emerging immigrant group. What we don’t have are visible institutions that are financially strong; but there is definitely a presence. The promise of the Haitian community in New York is strong and inspiring. It was only in the 1980’s that we were called “boat people.” Today, there are Haitian CEO’s, elected officials and Haitians in all aspects of business. I have great hope for the Haitian community.
 
When was the last time you’ve been to Haiti?
 
- I last went to Haiti in the summer of 2013 and traveled to Île-à-Vache in the South of Haiti. I stayed at L'anse a L'eau Beach House. It’s a lovely place.
 
I’ve noticed you posting some pictures of you golfing, how good of a golfer are you?
 
- I like golf; it gives me the opportunity to exercise and socialize with friends.
 
Your favorite Haitian dish?
 
- Lambi served with rice and beans is one of my favorite dishes - as well as accra and sweet plantains.
 
HB: Tahnk you Mr. Commissioner
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