Brigid Bergin is the City Hall reporter for WNYC. She covers city politics including the 2013 mayoral race and transition.
At Comptroller John C. Liu’s press conference Wednesday announcing a $1.2 million wage settlement for immigrant building workers, Peter Thorne set the stage. This would be a news conference about prevailing wage and cracking down on labor violations, declared Liu's new communications director. Questions about the beleaguered Liu campaign committee would not be answered, so they shouldn’t be asked.
Then the real show began. More than 20 people, including City Council members, half a dozen labor leaders, representatives from Housing Development and Preservation, the Consul General of Mexico in New York, an unpaid Mexican building worker, a representative from the immigrant advocate group Make The Road, and several other Comptroller office staffers filed in behind a podium, flanking Comptroller Liu on both sides.
While there’s nothing unusual about a press event staged so all the supporting actors get a moment in the spotlight, this comes as Liu campaign staffers continue to face legal battles and candidates to the Comptroller’s office make themselves known. Most assume Liu had his eye on higher office. Given these circumstances, one might expect Liu the Comptroller not to look or sound so much like Liu the Candidate. But possible allegiances and campaign themes were emerging.
Like John Liu’s support for immigrants – and alliance with immigrant leaders. Alternating between Spanish and English, he explained his office would diligently pursue those who tried to intimidate or exploit them.
“Speaking as an immigrant myself, we know well the contributions immigrants have made to the city of New York,” said Liu who added that 46 percent of the working people in New York are immigrants and more than half of them have at least some college education.
“Justicia regrasada no sera justicia denegada,” said Liu -- justice delayed will not be justice denied. “Gracias, and thanks.”
And John Liu’s support for Labor – and the labor leaders who will stand beside him. None of the city’s top players were there, but Liu took the time to introduce Raymond Rondino, the organizer for plumbers Local 1; Patrick Norton, the business agent in Manhattan for the stream fitters Local 638; Eduardo Jorge, the organizer for the New York State Ironworkers District Council; Elliot Hecht, the business agent in Manhattan of the International Brotherhood of the Electrical workers Local 3; and Jack Kittle, district 9 of the Painters union.
Several city council members were also on hand to show support for the settlement - and potentially for Liu – including Daniel Dromm, Jumaane Williams, Ydanis Rodriguez, Robert Jackson, and Larry Seabrook, not a stranger to public scrutiny himself.
Seabrook used the occasion to praise Liu’s work saying the Comptroller should be commended for standing up for worker’s rights, just like another man who was assassinated 44 years ago on Wednesday: Dr. Martin Luther King.
“He stood up and fought for worker rights,” said Seabrook. “Today is a historical day.”