In serving as the city’s top fiscal watchdog, the comptroller is that nitty-gritty steward of our pension funds, a number cruncher extraordinaire, the auditor of wasteful spending with broad fiduciary responsibilities that impact citywide policy on everything from education to sanitation.
In short, the comptroller is New York City’s money wizard - crusading, in theory, for the financial well being of all New Yorkers.
The office is in fact as important as it is misunderstood.
On the campaign trail this year, Councilman John Liu has often said the position is more important now than ever before, as the city struggles through a debilitating recession. He has a good point.
We need to get this one right. To do so, we need John Liu for comptroller.
Liu, who chairs the council's Tansportation Committee, faces a very talented field in Councilman David Weprin, the Finance Committee chair, Councilwoman Melinda Katz, the Land Use Committee chair, and Councilman David Yassky. All four are City Council heavy hitters with citywide name recognition, appeal, and strong track records of accomplishment.
Indeed, it is a measure of their commitment to public service (as well as the level of attention current Comptroller William Thompson, who is running for mayor, has brought to the office) that all four are foregoing assured third terms in City Council to run against each other for comptroller.
By all counts, it is one of the most competitive races of the election season. Nevertheless, interviews (in some cases multiple ones) with Liu, Weprin, and Katz has made it clear that Liu is the best candidate for the job, for a number of reasons. (Yassky’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests to meet with the Editorial Board of the Queens Ledger/Brooklyn Star for an interview.)
Before being elected to City Council, where he became the first Asian-American to hold legislative office in the history of New York, Liu had a successful private sector finance career working for the leading firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
He decided to give that up, and take a significant pay cut in the process, to run for the 20th District in northeast Queens. Liu has said he did so because he believed at the time, in 2001, the district was underserved by City Hall.
Few people have made that claim since Liu took office.
One of the hardest-working members of the council, Liu, in his capacity as Transportation Committee chairman, has fought for mass transit improvements and against East River tolls.
As a fully engaged City Council member, he has also immersed himself in a surprisingly broad array of issues, from affordable housing and government transparency to minority rights and education.
It is precisely this diverse spectrum of interests and expertise that would make Liu such a productive comptroller.
True, Weprin has more combined private and public sector financial experience than Liu- or, for that matter, than Katz or Yassky as well. He knows his numbers.
But so does Liu.
His ideas on how to protect and grow the city’s pension funds by carefully diversifying the city’s investment portfolio while respecting shareholder activism, are innovative and fiscally prudent.
He is committed to auditing every city agency, to eliminate wasteful spending, and to reforming the city’s contracting and procurement process, to reduce the number of “no-bid” contracts.
But these policies and others like them don’t tell the whole picture. Most importantly, and perhaps more so than the other candidates in this race, Liu understands and is committed to improving the lives of all New Yorkers, not just to protecting the assets of the wealthy and privileged. (It is hoped and believed that to live up to his potential, Liu will not lose sight of this priority).
He is a strong advocate for infrastructure investment to improve the city’s mass transit system, bridges and water system, which faces grave problems right now.
Liu believes in the need for more affordable housing, and in equal education and employment opportunities for all.
Liu would work for all these things, and work for them harder than anyone else. He is a standup elected official, his embarrassing sweatshop controversy - an unfortunate mistake for an otherwise careful, straightforward politician - notwithstanding.
To understand best what the comptroller’s office actually does, and why, elect John Liu and watch what he will do for you.