When it comes to talking about money and crunching the numbers, City Comptroller John Liu is masterful, and that skill was on full display last Tuesday morning at Immigrants Bank as he delivered his last State of the City address.
The one number that jumped out most for the overflow crowd and one they greeted with a sustained ovation was $5 billion. “My top priority has always been to cut waste and save money whenever and wherever we could,” Liu said toward the beginning of his hour-long speech.
Later, during a phone interview, he elaborated on the $5 billion. “That is a cumulative total over four years of savings, audits, shaving off waste, refinancing City bonds at lower interest rates, and this is real money,” he explained.
There was also resounding applause from the audience when he cited the CityTime scandal and how it siphoned off millions of the city’s and tax payers’ dollars. “We stopped millions of dollars from being wasted on that money pit, which had mushroomed from its budget of $63 million to more than $700 million by the time I took office,” he said to a collective gasp from listeners. “We turned the spigot off at CityTime. And our audits eventually led to a $466 million settlement from the company involved.”
In detailed fashion with numbers tumbling from his lips faster than anyone could calculate, Liu divulged a litany of out-of-control projects from overbilling by consultants to the tune of $60 million to the inflated costs of $160 million from Hewlett Packard for its work on the E911 project. And from the first day he took office Liu made it plain about the need to curtail corporate tax breaks to major corporations. “Corporate giveaways must be ended,” he charged, renewing a consistent theme during his tenure.
Beyond the economic and budgetary matters was Liu’s concern about a number of pressing social and political issues that have troubled him over the years, none more unsettling than stop-and-frisk and the unjust imprisonment of the Central Park Five. “It is an absolute disgrace that they have not gotten any justice,” he said during the interview. “It’s amazing that the city has been so intransigent on compensating them. I have been pushing for the city to settle this matter and I wish I had the power to do it myself.”
Among others things he wished he had the power to change is the pension investment, “but that’s something that will take years to do,” he lamented. Only his remarks about the mayoral race in which he was denied campaign finance funds, some $3.5 million, echoes as much disappointment from him.
Even so, Liu retains an upbeat demeanor and he said he will miss meeting people—and few elected officials spent as much time on the road as he did—and working to “bring about change.”
“I think the incoming comptroller, Scott Stringer, will find that the budget is in very good shape, and I leave behind a top-notch staff,” said Liu, and during his speech he graciously mentioned Stringer as well as Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and outgoing Mayor Bloomberg, who received both praise and admonishment during the speech.
At the end of his address, Liu said, “I may not have won the election, but I will continue to serve you and the people of this great city,” and if he never holds another public office, there’s a good chance he will be fondly remembered with the same warmth and love he received from thousands of New Yorkers as he safeguarded their money.