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John Liu

The Empire

UPDATED: Did John Liu announce his candidacy for Mayor last night?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

[Scroll down for additional updates]

UPDATE 2:

Reuters is reporting, and WNYC's Bob Hennelly has confirmed through the Liu campaign's lawyer Martin Connor, that the special investigator Comptroller John Liu hired to review his campaign's troubled fundraising practices has quit.

According to reports, former New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams sent a letter to the campaign today that he was resigning, saying its request that he wait until a Federal probe into the campaign was over before investigating, "compromises my independence, and my ability to do a thorough and effective job."

Abrams was hired after a New York Times article pointed to major issues with the Comptroller's fundraising practices. Abrams was hired less than three weeks ago.

Connor was quoted by Reuters saying, "It really doesn't make sense to have two investigations to be going on at once, and it's terribly expensive, and I think the federal government has more than enough resources to get all the information that's needed and they have subpoena power, and Mr. Abrams doesn't."

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That's what some people are wondering after an event in Greenpoint last night. The Chinese-language newspaper World Journal reported that at a fundraising event, the Comptroller reportedly told the crowd of about 80 people, "I've never felt this strong a will to run, I will run for New York City's top job!"

He went on to talk about the changes he would bring to City Hall and to discuss the growing inequality in the city. The announcement came at roughly the same time the man accused of making illegal contributions to his campaign was released from jail on a $100,000 bond.

Liu's campaign has not responded to a request for comment or confirmation. We will post updates as they come in.

UPDATE: John Liu's campaign spokesperson, Chung Seto, sent this message in response to requests for confirmation on the Comptroller's statements last night:

The World Journal headline is erroneous.

Indeed, Liu never said "I'm running for Mayor." But it's hard to see the thin line of daylight between running for Mayor and running for "New York City's top job!" We're still waiting for confirmation on the actual quotes from the event.

If they're confirmed, it will be an amazing statement on John Liu: at the very moment he became more embroiled in questions about his fundraising practices, Liu was in Brooklyn giving everyone in the room at a fundraiser reason to believe he's still running for Mayor.

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The Empire

New fundraising arrest raises more doubts about Liu's future

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The US District Attorney’s office in Manhattan today announced the arrest of another campaign donor who allegedly funneled illegal campaign funds into a 2013 mayoral contender John Liu's coffers. WNYC has confirmed through a Federal law enforcement source that the official in question is Comptroller Liu, who has been plagued by questions over irregular and potentially illegal fundraising activities.

Xing Wu “Oliver” Pan is accused of contributing $16,000--far beyond the legal contribution limit--to Liu’s 2013 campaign through 20 “straw donors.” The donations would have been matched six-to-one by the city’s campaign finance matching system had they not been caught.

“As alleged, Oliver Pan engaged in a deliberate and flagrant attempt to subvert the campaign finance laws and manipulate the City’s matching fund system,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.

“I am saddened by what I read today. If it is true then the conduct was clearly wrong and my campaign was not told the truth,” Liu said in response to the allegations, via a spokesperson.

With another allegation of financial impropriety coming forth, political insiders are beginning to question not only Liu’s 2013 mayoral aspirations, but his ability to function as the city’s fiscal steward.

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The Empire

A long Fall for Comptroller John Liu

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Liu's future political forecast looks cloudy. (Colby Hamilton / WNYC)

Standing next to the other city elected officials yesterday, New York City Comptroller John Liu didn't appear to be a man under siege. He was introduced by Working Families Party deputy director Bill Lipton at the press event before chastising the Mayor and lauding Occupy Wall Street.

But outside of the ring of liberal city officials and labor leaders, Comptroller Liu is facing serious questions about his fundraising activities, the likes of which could make his future political aspirations dead on arrival.

"We assume there will be a fair investigation of the allegations, and of course we would not comment on anything until that's done," said WFP spokesperson TJ Helmstetter. But it's uncertain how long political allies will be standing by Liu.

Liu's trouble really started back in July when a little-seen piece in Crain's pointed to some suspiciously large campaign contributions from supermarket workers. At the time, the Liu campaign pushed back, essentially suggesting the question was thinly-veiled racism, calling it "a ridiculous assumption."

But then the New York Times started poking into the campaign's finances. They found a number of major irregularities, including the possibility that some donors didn't even exist. Liu came on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show to defend his campaign, questioning how the Times conducted its reporting but vowing to get to the bottom of things. He later hired former New York State Attorney General Robert Adams to review his own fundraising efforts.

Earlier this week it was revealed that Federal authorities are now involved. Grand jury subpoenas have been issued to find out more information about a city contractor whose employees gave large donations to the campaign. The big question is whether or not that was their own money, or if funds were funneled through employees, which would potentially be a violation of Federal law.

Now, today, the Wall Street Journal is reporting more specifically that donations from donors connected to disgraced national Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu were not returned back in 2008

According to campaign records, Mr. Liu accepted a $500 donation from [actress Susan] Chilman on April 11, 2007. In the midst of the scandal surrounding Mr. Hsu, a number of politicians returned the contributions they received from Ms. Chilman, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and former Rep. Anthony Weiner. Mr. Liu did not.

In a recent interview with the Journal, Ms. Chilman said she isn't a supporter of Mr. Liu. She said she made the contribution solely at Mr. Hsu's behest and was reimbursed by him for it. "I don't know John Liu," she said.

The full extent of Mr. Hsu's influence on Mr. Liu's 2009 campaign is unknown, in part because Mr. Liu has yet to comply with city campaign finance laws that require the disclosure of bundlers, people such as Mr. Hsu who collect contributions for a political candidate from other people. Mr. Liu said he plans to disclose his bundlers but is awaiting the green light from the Campaign Finance Board; the board told the Journal on Tuesday that Mr. Liu is free to disclose immediately.

To add to this, the Comptroller's plan for a major overhaul of the city's pension system--announced alongside Mayor Michael Bloomberg--has come under fire since the plan was released.

How does all this add up for John Liu's mayoral ambitions?

"The mayoral race is out the window," said Hank Sheinkopf, a long-time Democratic political consultant. But Sheinkopf noted the question now is less about ambition and more about survival.

"The question is, can he run for reelection," Sheinkopf said. "If the revelations continue, that will also be very difficult because you can't have the city auditor audited by the federal prosecutor at the same time, with the potential for criminal indictment."

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The Empire

Elected officials react to Mayor's booting of Occupy Wall Street protesters

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

We're talking to city, state and Federal officials to get their reactions to this morning's clearing of protesters from Zuccotti Park. We'll update as reactions come in.

3:55 pm

At long last, a statement from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn on the Mayor's actions last night:

As I have said from the very beginning, we must balance the protesters’ First Amendment rights with the rights of the residents, workers, and businesses of Lower Manhattan. We must protect the protestors' right to peaceful assembly and the local community's right to a safe and secure neighborhood.

Today’s actions include reports of excessive force by the NYPD, and reports of infringement of the rights of the press. If these reports are true, these actions are unacceptable. The Council will seek answers to questions surrounding these reports and clarifying information regarding the arrest and treatment of Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.

In a spirit of cooperation, we must work to ensure that the protesters are allowed back into Zuccotti Park as soon as possible and are allowed to exercise their right to protest while not impeding on the rights of others.

1:35 pm

A joint statement from Manhattan State Senator Dan Squadron and Congressman Jerrold Nadler, whose district covers Zuccotti Park:

We agree that Zuccotti Park must be open and accessible to everyone – OWS, the public, law enforcement and first responders – and that it is critical to protect the health and safety of protesters and the community.

We have also been urging the City to have a zero tolerance policy on noise and sanitation violations, and to make the results of its enforcement public. But we must balance the core First Amendment rights of protesters and the other legitimate issues that have been raised.

The City’s actions to shut down OWS last night raise a number of serious civil liberties questions that must be answered.  Moving forward, how will the City respect the protesters’ rights to speech and assembly?  Why was press access limited, and why were some reporters’ credentials confiscated?  How will reported incidents of excessive force used by the police be addressed?

On the issue of Brookfield’s rules, we are very concerned that they were promulgated after the protesters arrived; the specific legal questions on this topic are being addressed where it is appropriate – in the courts.

Whatever the courts rule, the City’s actions here must not be a backdoor means of ending the free exercise of protesters’ rights. Irrespective of this incident, OWS is now bigger than Zuccotti Park, and no one has the power to silence this national movement.

1:19 pm

Statement from the chair of the City Council's civil rights committee, Staten Island Councilwoman Debi Rose:

Last night, Freedom of Speech was attacked like a thief in the night. While I recognize the importance of the occupier's health and safety, I seriously question whether protesters were given ample time to vacate the park without creating a scene of pandemonium. The fact that Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez was injured during this process was indicative of the indiscriminate use of force. I stand by my friend and colleague, Ydanis Rodriquez and I also stand firmly on the side of the 99 percent!

1:15 pm

Statement from the chair of the City Council's public safety committee, Queens Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr.:

I support Mayor Bloomberg’s actions today in ending only the illegal aspects of what had clearly become an occupation which denied others their right to safe, clean streets. The protests can continue, within the reasonable restrictions set by the legislature and the courts.

12:43 pm

Manhattan Democratic Party chairman Assemblyman Keith Wright said he'd visited the encampment at least seven times and had found protesters who "weren't bothering anybody."

"It seemed clean. It seemed orderly," he said. "I think it was a power move by the mayor. I don't really quite understand why they cannot go back and camp out." He continued, saying the Mayor was "trying to get rid of the mosquito that's been buzzing in [Bloomberg's] ear."

12:33 pm

Statement from Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer:

For many weeks, there has been a struggle to balance the protesters’ First Amendment freedoms and the health, sanitation, and safety concerns surrounding Zuccotti Park.  During this time, I have enjoyed a collaborative discourse with the Administration on this issue.  I want to thank in particular my colleagues in government including Deputy Mayor Wolfson.

Last night, the Administration acted to end the occupation of Zuccotti Park by forcible eviction, and I am greatly troubled by reports of unnecessary force against protestors and members of the media, including the use of “chokeholds” and pepper spray. I am also troubled by reports of media being forcibly kept away at a distance from these events. American foreign correspondents routinely put themselves in harm’s way to do their jobs, in some of the most brutal dictatorships in the world.  And their NYC colleagues deserve the freedom to make the same choice.  Zuccotti Park is not Tiananmen Square. I call for a full explanation of police behavior in this evacuation.

New York City has a duty to protect public safety, and it also has a duty to protect people’s freedom to voice concerns about economic justice that have struck a deep chord with millions of Americans. Surely our City can do both.

12:30 pm

Statement from Comptroller John Liu:

Going in and forcibly removing the protestors in the dead of night sends the wrong message. City Hall should have continued to talk with the protestors in the light of day if it wanted them removed, instead of evicting them in the middle of the night. There seems to be no compelling reason for this action at this time. The protestors have a right to be heard.

11:26 am

City Councilman Jumaane Williams was at Zuccotti Park this morning by 2 am, after hearing that Mayor Michael Bloomberg had ordered the clearing of protesters. "Just in time to see [City Councilman] Ydanis [Rodriguez] put in the paddywagon," Williams said. Rodriguez was arrested this morning along with more than a hundred other protesters.

"I think it's a very bad day for democracy. And I'm sorry that Bloomberg has his name all over it," the Councilman continued. He said the actions by the Mayor would serve to "galvanize" support for the Occupation, bringing more people in.

"People are going to get more energized now," he said.

11:18 am

Manhattan State Senator Liz Krueger:

I am very disturbed that the City's approach to dealing with the "health and fire safety" issues raised by the Zuccotti protest was a surprise ambush in the middle of the night. Physically forcing people out of the park or leaving them to face arrest, with no notice or warning, is not a commitment to civil rights and it certainly was not the right way to handle this situation.

11:13 am

Statement from Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who has been supportive of the Occupation. Hoping to speak to him a bit more on this later.

Protecting public safety and quality of life for downtown residents, and guaranteeing free expression are not exclusive of one another. Mayor Bloomberg made a needlessly provocative and legally questionable decision to clear Zuccotti Park in the dead of night. That some media and observers were prevented from monitoring the action is deeply troubling.

I know of no one—protesters included—who desires a permanent occupation of lower Manhattan. But provocations under cover of darkness only escalate tensions in a situation that calls for mediation and dialogue. I call on the Mayor to find a sustainable resolution—as other cities have done—that allows for the exercise of free speech and assembly, with respect for the rights of all New Yorkers to peaceful enjoyment of our great city.

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The Empire

The pension deal: What does John Liu walk away with?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Getty / Slaven Vlasic

Yesterday’s announcement that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Comptroller John Liu had agreed to a major overhauling of how the city’s pension system would be run surprised many people. These two haven’t exactly seen eye-to-eye when it comes to pensions. And considering the fact that Liu wants the job currently occupied by Bloomberg, it’s worth looking at the deal a little further to see what Liu actually gets out of it.

First, what exactly did they agree to? The mayor’s and comptroller’s offices, along with labor leaders who’s members pay into the funds, agreed to push to have the city’s five separate funds brought under the control of one board, with an outside manager hired to run the whole thing.

I say “push” because the plan, which is being hailed as a financialboon to both city taxpayers and pensioners, has to clear major hurdles—like having the state legislature and the Governor sign off on the change, among other things—to clear before any changes would take effect.

That being said, the most interesting thing is that the agreement essentially strips the Comptroller’s office—this or future ones—of one of its main duties. There’s this line from the press release:

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WNYC News

Mayor, Officials Unveil Plan for City Pension Overhaul

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mayor  Michael Bloomberg, city Comptroller John Liu and labor leaders said Thursday that they've developed a plan to potentially make New York City a national leader in the way public pensions are governed.

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The Empire

Comptroller Liu tours the most unemployed county in New York State

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

In a video that first appeared (to my knowledge) on the Norwood News website, New York City Comptroller is seen talking with members of the Bronx Community College about the difficulties faced by students.

According to the News, Liu was on a "mini-tour" which consisted of a trip to a jobs center as well as a senior center:

The Bronx continues to have the highest unemployment in the state, according to the most recent New York State Department of Labor numbers, at 12.1 percent. The city's rate overall stands at 8.7 percent.

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The Empire

Liu: We have their signatures!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Comptroller Liu sees costs dropping in the future.

Courtesy of the comptroller's office/Paul Brumlik

In the wake of the (potentially) damning New York Times story this morning, New York City Comptroller John Liu appears to be ratcheting up his defenses. According to WNYC, the comptroller says he's able to prove real human beings gave his 2013 campaign money of their own free will--regardless if the Times says:

"We have copies of signed checks, and signed donor forms by each of these donors," Liu told WNYC on Wednesday. "It's unclear to me how the interviews were conducted by the Times. Nonetheless the donors in question will be further reviewed by my campaign."

Some whispered rumors already being floated are that this could sink Liu's mayoral bid, and perhaps even worse, result in legal action. Of course, if Liu can prove his campaign donations are on the up-and-up ultimately, he'll look like the target of some shoddy reporting and maybe even make him a stronger contender for the mayoralty.

When these numbers came out back in July, Empire plotted them on a map so you could see who was giving what and where. I'm relaunching the map below--see if you can find the questionable donations!

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WNYC News

Liu Defends Fundraising Practices

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

New York City comptroller John Liu defended his fundraising practices on Wednesday following a report that questions the legitimacy of some donations.

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The Empire

Liu blasts mayor's living wage bill study

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Comptroller John Liu is weighing in on what's amounting to a controversial report produced by the city's Economic Development Corporation that called the positive affects of a proposed mandatory wage bill for city-sponsored development projects "negligible."

The city council has supported a bill, with modifications, that labor allies are pushing for the council to pass. The mayor has steadfastly opposed any living wage legislation.

Today, labor supportive groups have been pushing back on the report, calling it flawed and dubious. So is Liu, who has close ties to labor:

This million dollar report is so flawed it’s not worth the bandwidth for a download. The EDC’s claim that a living wage kills jobs shows just how distorted the agency’s perspective has become. The proposed living wage would be a requirement on new projects that are heavily subsidized by taxpayers and would create new jobs that pay decent wages. The claim of job losses is rhetoric at its worst.

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The Empire

Manhattan Borough Prez strings together media wins, pads 2013 resume

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer (Colby Hamilton / WNYC)

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has been on a roll lately. Over the weekendhe spoke at a national symposium on rethinking incarceration policies, calling on the mayor to do just that when it comes to the police department’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy.

Good timing:the day before Police Commissioner Ray Kelly issued a directive to officers to not make arrests for marijuana possession during the procedure. And earlier this month, when a group of city council members announced they were allowing their constituents to vote on how discretionary funds were spent in-district, Stringer’s recent report calling for a major overhaul of the process ends up looking pretty prescient in hindsight.

Yesterday, Stringer was downtown at a stalled construction site turned temporary public space to tout a new report he’s released. He’s calling on the city to help turn some of the 646 other stalled sites into temporary places for public use, like parks or art galleries, like the one at the corner of Varick Street and Canal.

“Imagine a city where stalled construction sites are not simply inactive, dead vacant lots, but one where they boost the health and vitality of a neighborhood,” Stringer said in a statement. “That’s the kind of sidewalk renaissance we need in New York City.”

Opening the report reveals a list of other dozens of other reports, going back as far as 2006, that demonstrate how the non-legislative position of Borough President can be used as bully pulpit. As his office pointed out, these issues aren’t (entirely) flimsy publicity papers—see above.

In a crowded 2013 Democratic mayoral field, Stringer is padding his resume with think tank-like ideas for improving the city and addressing major social issues. He'll likely be citing these as examples to show he can get the city to respond to issues in a way City Council Speaker Christine Quinn can't, as she’s hemmed in by her position in the council and proximity to the current mayor. It will also allow him to list proactive agenda items—a difficult thing for a Borough President—that shows Comptroller John Liu and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio aren’t the only reformers vying for mayoralty.

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The Empire

Quinn continues to lead 2013 Dem pack: Marist

Monday, September 26, 2011

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn continues to lead the pack of 2013 Democratic mayoral contenders, according to a new NY1-Marist poll released today. Were the Democratic primary held today, 20 percent of those polled said they would support the council speaker. Following four points behind her was Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who has said he has no interest in running for mayor.

While she might have the most dedicated support, one-in-four of those polled said they were still undecided.

“With 25 percent of Democrats undecided and the field lacking a dominant top tier of candidates, this is a campaign story still to be told,” said Marist College's Institute of Public Opinion President Lee Miringoff in a statement.

But there's trouble on the horizon for Quinn, whose support from Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the race is an open secret. Bloomberg's support would make 48 percent of those polled less likely to vote for the candidate the mayor backs.

“Those looking to succeed Mayor Bloomberg might welcome his support. But, if the numbers hold, don't expect anyone to make his endorsement the centerpiece of their campaign,” Miringoff said.

The rest of the field break down:

  • Former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson: 12 percent
  • Comptroller John Liu: 10 percent
  • Public Advocate Bill de Blasio: 7 percent
  • Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer: 6 percent
  • Manhattan Media Publisher Tom Allon: 2 percent

Update: Crosstabs below.
EMBARGOED_Complete September 26, 2011 NYC NY1-Marist Poll Release and Tables

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The Empire

NYC, NYS comptrollers dig up dirt in audits

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Update:

The Economic Development Corporation set over this statement in response to Comptroller Liu's audit. From EDC spokesperson Patrick Muncie:

We appreciate the Comptroller’s analysis, and we’re glad it determined that EDC has disbursed a vast majority of the funds available for community benefit. The Comptroller’s suggestions for the remaining funds may be well-intentioned, but they ignore the disbursement restrictions EDC is legally bound to follow, and many are infeasible or simply not in the best interest of the City’s taxpayers. We will continue to ensure that all of the funds are wisely invested in the neighborhoods for which they were intended.

For time's sake I'm condensing two separate audits released today--one by New York City Comptroller John Liu, the other by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

Liu finds millions in unspent city development funds

Comptroller Liu sees costs dropping in the future.

Courtesy of the comptroller's office/Paul Brumlik

The comptroller's office says an audit found $9.3 million in unspent funds meant for public benefit projects on the Economic Development Corporation's books. The bulk of the funds were approved in 1992 as part of a development deal, and meant benefit the Harlem River Rail Yard in the Bronx.

“It makes little sense that millions intended for economic development remain unused for so long, especially in the Bronx where jobs are greatly needed,” Liu said in a statement. “If the EDC can’t figure out how to put the capital to work then at least return the money to the City treasury.”

DiNapoli's audit of the MTA confirms the agency's deep fiscal woes

Courtesy of the Comptroller's office

According to a report put out by DiNapoli's office, many of the concerns over the sustainability of the MTA's capital program were well founded. An audit of the agency revealed considerable risks in the financial assumptions its making, and warned that taking on more debt would only complicate things.

“The MTA is in a very difficult position as it struggles to hold together a strained operating budget while proposing the largest borrowing program in its history to fund capital projects,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Before taking on nearly $15 billion in new debt, the MTA must present the public with the facts about the potential long-term implications of this new borrowing on services, fares and budget gaps.”

The comptroller warned that, if the MTA took on the proposed debt, the interest paid on what the agency owed could reach $3.3 billion by 2018. That would be 64 percent more than it is this year. DiNapoli projected that, even with scheduled fare and toll increases, the MTA could still face a budget gaps rising from $600 million in 2016 to $1.2 billion in 2018.

All of this, of course, would be waiting for whomever Governor Andrew Cuomo picks to replace departing MTA head Jay Walder later next month.

“The next MTA Chairperson will face a number of challenges including negotiating new collective bargaining agreements, squeezing additional savings from the operating and capital budgets, and keeping fares affordable in the face of rising debt service costs for the capital program,” DiNapoli said.

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The Empire

Bloomberg gets post-Irene praise, but Holloway 'secret to success'

Monday, August 29, 2011

Former Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, left, with Cas Holloway and Michael Bloomberg, right, in 2010. (Courtesy of the Mayor's office.)

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is scooping up praise from elected officials and civic leaders for the city’s handing of hurricane Irene. Sure, the storm itself was a bit overblown, but few, if any, officials joined naysayers in questioning the mayor’s precaution tactics ahead of the storm’s landing late Saturday.

“Now that Hurricane Irene has come and gone, New Yorkers should take a moment to recognize that the storm’s effects would have been much worse if Mayor Bloomberg had not taken steps to properly prepare the City for the worst storm to hit the East Coast in decades,” New York City Comptroller John Liu—not always the biggest fan of the mayor—said in a press release.

“When I need to be critical of Mayor Bloomberg, I am,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. “But I have to tip my hat and give kudos when it's merited."

“I think they handled this extreme well,” Staten Island Councilman Vincent Ignizio said, after noting he had been a critic of the mayor in the past. “It goes to show: When the hierarchy is clearly in place the operations flow appropriately."

Ignizio’s comment about operational flow is worth highlighting. A number of those interviewed praised not only the mayor, but the mayor’s newly appointed deputy mayor for operations, Cas Holloway. After a stint at the head of the city's Department of Environmental Protection, Holloway was brought in to replace Stephen Goldsmith after Goldsmith resigned. Goldsmith was largely—and possibly unfairly—blamed for much of the city’s shoddy emergency response to the massive snowstorm back in January.

At the time, Holloway’s appointment was cast largely as a reversal for the mayor, who’d been installing outsiders like Goldsmith in key positions. In Holloway, the mayor had a seasoned city bureaucrat; someone whose strength was working inside the system, not shaking it up.

The move paid off. The city’s well-praised response to Hurricane Irene might be redemption for Bloomberg. But for Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway it is a victorious trial by fire.

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WNYC News

Report: MTA Projects Late, Some Over Budget

Monday, August 01, 2011

The Metropolitan Transit Authority is not doing enough to alert riders of subway service disruptions, according to a joint audit report released Sunday by the New York state and city comptrollers.

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The Empire

UPDATE: NY City, State comptrollers' audit targets MTA "diversions"

Sunday, July 31, 2011

If you were traveling from central Queens inbound this weekend, you didn't need either New York State Comptroller Thomas Di Napoli or the city comptroller John Liu to tell you MTA track work and the Dante-like ring of hell it creates were a major inconvenience to riders. E and M trains running on the F line and the 7 train not running to Manhattan made getting to, say, Williamsburg from Rego Park required three separate trains and a shuttle bus, and created loads of unhappy weekend commuters. [NOTE: I'm trying to find an updated term for "strap hangers." If you've got any ideas, let me know. --Colby]

A new audit of the MTA's transit diversions--all those weekend and night reroutings "because of construction"--released today identified unaccounted for cost overruns in the millions, an overall increase in the number of diversions New Yorkers had to deal with, and a failure of the often-maligned agency to properly notify riders of impending work.

“When  the  MTA  fails to manage its service diversions properly, it's more than  an inconvenience; it's a waste of taxpayer money and it derails local businesses,”  Comptroller  DiNapoli  said in a statement. "The subway system is showing its age, but the MTA has to do a better job managing all aspects of these diversions, from rider notification to budgeting.”

“Sadly  this  confirms  the  nagging  suspicion  of  riders,  residents and business  owners  alike,  that  subway  service  is  taken  down  more than necessary,”  Comptroller Liu added.

(Courtesy of the NYS & NYC Comptrollers' offices)

According to the joint audit, weekend diversions rose from 47 to 74 between 2008 and 2010. Over the same time period the number of diversions that lasted for at least month increased eight fold, from 7 in 2008 to 57 in 2010. Riders of the 7 train alone suffered nine consecutive weekends of diversions between January and March 2010.

While New Yorkers are all too aware of the inconveniences caused by weekend and night construction, the audit found tens of millions of dollars in cost overruns and waste that riders and taxpayers are footing to-boot. Night and weekend work often started late and ended earlier, the audit found, creating an estimated $10.5 million in unproductive costs.

Additionally, the comptrollers' offices found the agency failed to document why diversion work went over budget. On four projects the audit examined, the total estimated cost had run over by $26.6 million as of January 2011.

The audit also found the MTA failing to comply with federal law when printing notices only in English, and had printed notices of upcoming work for only two of the 50 diversions the audit examined.

UPDATE

A statement from the MTA on the report:
"Due to the 24-hour, seven day a week operation of the subway system, planned service diversions are necessary in order to perform maintenance and capital work.  We make every effort to minimize customer inconvenience by coordinating work --- performing multiple jobs in the same area so that we do not have to go back again.  However, some projects are extremely involved, requiring several shutdowns.  We strive to keep customers aware of the diversions, utilizing station, and in car signage along with announcements, both in stations and onboard trains.  Detailed information is also provided on the MTA website and through our email and text alerts."

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The Empire

NYC debt ceiling disaster plan, via the comptroller's office

Friday, July 29, 2011

Worried what will happen to city government if the debt ceiling's not raised? John Liu is on it. Here's what the comptroller is counseling the mayor's office on, should congress not raising the debt ceiling. Ready for scare quotes?

"The City could therefore be at risk of losing up to an additional $461 million in direct State aid in August. Accounting for a loss of both Federal and State funding to the City, the total lost revenue in August could exceed $1.39 billion."

"Since so many New Yorkers, particularly the elderly and disabled , rely on their monthly Social Security benefit as their sole source of income ‐ using their check to pay rent, buy groceries and just make ends meet – delaying their benefits for even a few days could inflict unacceptable hardship."

But, really, other than the nightmare withholding Social Security checks to seniors would cause, Liu says the city's actually in decent shape. Don't believe me? Read it for yourself.

Debt Advisory

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The Empire

Where are the mayoral candidates raising their money?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Will John Liu be flush from Flushing? Is Christine Quinn collecting checks in Chelsea? Will De Blasio get bank rolled by Brooklyn?

The presumptive 2013 Democratic mayoral hopefuls have until 5pm today to submit their third financial statement to the Campaign Finance Board. With the help of WNYC's map guru John Keefe, the Empire is giving readers a visual way to look at where the candidates are raising funds. The deeper the shade, the more the money. We'll update the map as the numbers come in, and will be sure to post the raw figures as well. Dig in and let us know if you find anything!

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The Empire

Comptroller's chief economist responds to deputy mayor Steel

Friday, July 15, 2011

Response to “Deputy Mayor Steel rebuts Liu on pensions,” by Colby Hamilton on the WNYC blog The Empire Blog of Thursday, July 14, 2011.

In his comments during the Citizens Budget Commission breakfast at the Princeton Club on Thursday, Deputy Mayor Robert Steel was quoted as saying “Pensions are to the City of New York what entitlement reform is to the federal government…"

We beg to differ. In fact, the NYC pension funds are fundamentally different than federal entitlement programs and it confuses the issue to make such comparisons.

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WNYC News

City to Take Over Scandal-Plagued CityTime Payroll Project

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The city is taking control of a scandal-plagued payroll project away from outside consultants.

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