New York Fed chief selection process draws fire from politicians

FILE PHOTO: San Francisco Federal Reserve President John Williams speaks to Reuters in San Francisco, California, U.S. on September 27, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo (Reuters)

By Jonathan Spicer and Ann Saphir

NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The selection process for the next Federal Reserve Bank of New York president has drawn the ire of New York City, state and other elected officials amid a report that San Francisco Fed President John Williams is the front runner for the job.

The extraordinary public opposition from Democrats, circulated by Washington-based advocacy group Center for Popular Democracy on Wednesday, highlighted concerns over a lack of racial and gender diversity at the U.S. central bank.

The outcry marked an escalation of scrutiny of the New York Fed, and could pose a challenge for Fed Chair Jerome Powell's efforts to protect the central bank's independence from political influence.

"The New York Fed has never been led by a woman or a person of colour, and that needs to change," Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said in a statement, adding such well-qualified candidates "should not be overlooked." The junior U.S. senator from New York also urged Congressional oversight of the selection process.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren earlier this week also had called for Congressional hearings on the process.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that the New York Fed board of directors had recommended Williams, a long time Fed economist and policymaker, to succeed William Dudley as New York Fed president.

The New York Fed and the San Francisco Fed declined to comment on Wednesday and the Federal Reserve Board did not respond to a request for comment. The New York Fed said on March 16 it was considering "a handful" of final candidates to replace Dudley, who plans to step down by mid-year.

Both Williams and Dudley are white men and professional economists, though their track record in promoting diversity within their banks' ranks appears to differ.

In 2016, 46 percent of senior executives at the San Francisco Fed were minorities, the highest percentage of all the 12 Fed banks, and up from 15 percent when Williams took the helm at the bank. The 2016 figure at the New York Fed was 11 percent.

The Fed's 12 regional banks send diversity reports to Congress annually and the 2017 data will be published by the end of March.

The New York Fed president, often seen as the second most influential policymaker at the central bank, has a permanent vote on interest-rate setting; serves as vice chair of the policy-making committee; oversees market operations including $4.4 trillion in assets; and supervises big banks.

"The New York Federal Reserve Bank must be led by someone who will stand up for an economy that works for all of us – not just Wall Street and the 1 percent. Period," said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in a separate statement.

New York City comptroller Scott Stringer, and 34 state legislators also released letters urging the Fed Chair and the New York Fed to consider diversity in selecting a candidate.

Still, a final decision has not yet been made on a nominee, according to two sources close to the search process who spoke under conditional of anonymity.

(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer and Ann Saphir; editing by Diane Craft)