Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Liu Challenge

Crain's is reporting on the serious challenge that Comptroller John Liu is making to the mayor's questionable stewardship of the city's economic development policies: "City Comptroller John Liu needed less than three months in office to accomplish something that took his predecessor eight years: He said “no” to Michael Bloomberg. By March 2010, Mr. Liu, as a board member of the city's Industrial Development Agency, had voted against the mayor's projects as many times as William Thompson did in his two terms as comptroller."

More reason to suspect the candidacy of Bill Thompson in 2013-and Speaker Quinn as well. But is the comptroller just being contrary, or is their a method to his being mad? Crain's answers: "Because nine of the 15 board members are appointed by the mayor, the comptroller's opposition to IDA projects did not affect the outcome of the votes. But Mr. Liu's intransigence had little to do with the projects themselves. He had decided at the outset of his administration to challenge the mayor's stewardship.“I see myself as the protector of the taxpayers' money and also the steward of the facts and figures,” Mr. Liu said last month."

Finally, someone who understands the important principle of checks and balances-and a person who sees through the mayor's claim to papal infallibility: "Mr. Liu has cast himself as the city's watchdog, reining in a profligate mayor. Given the mayor's low approval ratings, this anti-Bloomberg stance could serve Mr. Liu well should he decide to run for mayor in 2013. Already, his scrappy approach distinguishes him from both his predecessor, who lost his bid against Mr. Bloomberg, and another potential candidate, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has an amiable relationship with the mayor. Mr. Liu has focused the considerable powers of his office on two cornerstones of Mr. Bloomberg's administration: the agencies responsible for economic development and education."

It's economic development that concerns us most at the Iron Triangle, and while the comptroller has been receptive to our plight, he hasn't yet really mounted the kind of challenge to EDC-and its consultant contracts-that is well within the purview of his office. After all, illegally hiring Claire Shulman and also allowing environmental consultants to cook the traffic data books, is well worth his review.

Now, to be fair, he does have his sights on EDC and perhaps there is more in store that has not yet been revealed: "Mr. Liu has used nearly every vote on the IDA board, as well as a handful of audits, to protest the agency's parent organization, the city's Economic Development Corp., which he says lacks transparency. He calls the EDC “a black hole of an entity that is nearly impossible to get valuable information out of. That is consistently the feedback that I've heard from my colleagues in the City Council, both when I was in the City Council and now as comptroller,” he said."

What Liu hasn't figured out yet is how to really get the agency to be transparent; and to be very fair he doesn't have a partner in government with Speechless Quinn. His opposition to the IDA projects may offer a clue of what's to come, however: "Mr. Liu said his “no” votes on the IDA board were intended to protect “scarce public resources”—a phrase he has used repeatedly to explain his opposition to nearly every project that has come before the board during his 15 months in office. “I'm not here to make the mayor miserable,” he said. “But I was not elected to be a rubber stamp.”

If only he were the Speaker! But that job is occupied by someone with more important things to do than properly hold the mayor's feet to the fire-like sending food scraps all the way to Delaware to compost them in what has to be the most harebrained scheme we have ever seen.

But if Comptroller Liu is concerned about the misuse of scarce resources, he should now fully set his sights on all of the machinations surrounding the development at Willets Point. Mr, Comptroller, you will never find a more target rich environment.