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Queens Chronicle

As comptroller, Liu guards city’s money

Former Flushing legislator defends himself from Bloomberg’s criticism

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Posted: Thursday, August 25, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 1:20 pm, Thu Sep 1, 2011.

When asked about Mayor Bloomberg’s recent statement that city Comptroller John Liu should “do a real analysis” of the city’s pension costs, the former councilman from Flushing laughed, clasping his hands as he said he was not afraid to take on a city leader not accustomed to hearing no.

“I know the mayor doesn’t think I know what I’m talking about,” Liu said in a sit-down interview at the Queens Chronicle last Thursday. “But I used to be a pension actuary. I did that for 14 years.”

As comptroller, Liu is the city’s chief auditing officer who oversees the public employees’ pension funds.

Bloomberg said in a recent editorial meeting with the Daily News that Liu “doesn’t know what he’s talking about” in regard to the comptroller’s June report that city pension costs would decrease in about five years because cheaper benefits are going to kick in for some city employees.

“I have to work with John, and I’ll try to help,” Bloomberg said during the Daily News interview. “And hopefully he’ll eventually get staff and himself together where they can provide a real function and do a real analysis.”

But Liu challenged the mayor to come up with reports that prove the comptroller wrong.

“It’s been validated by independent experts,” Liu said. “We don't see any reports from the mayor’s office. We see a lot of talk and one liners, but where are the reports backing up those statements?”

This is certainly not the first time Liu and Bloomberg have butted heads. The two clashed when Liu represented Flushing in the City Council, and since becoming comptroller last year, he and the mayor have vehemently disagreed on everything from teacher contracts — Liu blocked a $20 million teacher recruitment contract in April because he said the city should not be spending money at a time when Bloomberg was threatening mass teacher layoffs — to a number of the comptroller’s reports that are critical of spending by the city Department of Education, including one that said the DOE spent about $19 million more than expected on the computerized high school selection process that pairs students with a school.

“The Department of Education is my highest audit priority,” said Liu, the first Asian-American to be elected to a citywide office and a possible contender in the 2012 mayoral race.

Currently, Liu, who still resides in Flushing and served in the council from 2001 to 2009, said he is looking into “if there’s the capacity in schools that the DOE says there is.”

He has also blasted CityTime, an automated payroll program for city employees that is the target of a federal corruption investigation.

“In my first month, City Hall asked me to approve another contract” for CityTime, Liu said. “I rejected it and initiated an audit. I did not know how much of a scandal this was going to become.”

Liu went on to say he “was very happy” that Bloomberg at the end of June asked Science Applications International Corp., the company that managed the CityTime project, to refund the city $600 million — essentially all the money it was paid since it began overseeing the initiative in 2003.

“It’s become the biggest scandal in the city’s history,” Liu said.

On a more local level, the comptroller said he hopes the mayor doesn’t “remain so steadfast” in his determination to redevelop the 62-acre space at Willets Point as originally planned.

“If a prominent university wants to come in there, the city should take that into consideration,” Liu said.

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