When asked who the next Securities and Exchange Commission chairman should be, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau says that the replacement for the departing Harvey Pitt should be someone with intimate knowledge of the securities industry, someone, he quipped, “like Marty Whitman.”
Morgenthau was referring to his host at the investment management conference in New York on November 6–Martin J. Whitman, the chairman of Third Avenue Management LLC and long-time manager of the Third Avenue Value Fund. Whitman, who has for decades followed his uniquely successful approach to tax efficient value investing, was quick to decline the endorsement. But the mood at the meeting was clearly one of anticipation: with the recent history of corporate scandals and Wall Street complicity in those scandals, a desire for a level playing field was palpable.
Morgenthau became Manhattan D.A. in 1975 and built his reputation partly on the basis of some high-profile white-collar investigations of corruption in the securities business. In fact, he says that one of his major priorities as D.A. has always been to make New York a safe place to invest, and in his speech he lauded a former staffer of his–now New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer–for his efforts in exposing the continued conflicts of interest on between Wall Street research analysts and investment bankers.