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Liu says he's the man that can

Nayaba Arinde | 4/12/2011, 4:40 p.m.

He doesn't sidestep the issue of race and racism, but he does say, "I am certainly campaigning in every neighborhood across the city with a consistent message about my qualifications and expertise. But it does seem that I'm more well received in some neighborhoods. I have a great time here in Harlem," he said with a real hearty laugh. "My message is the same: I talk about my qualifications and my expertise and where I think that the city should be headed. My highest priority is economic empowerment, the creation of jobs. That means more opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses [MWBEs] and getting access to the billions of dollars of contracts that the city puts out a year. There's no accountability with these big companies for recruiting and hiring people from our neighborhoods."

Liu said his intention is to increase Black, Latino and Asian inclusion in "construction and ongoing permanent jobs after construction," such as the contracts for computers, catering, cleaning and accounting, etc.

Liu told the AmNews, "The disparity is because we have not placed a greater enough emphasis on that in this city. We lag behind major cities like Chicago and Atlanta, where the disparities have been essentially wiped out. The disparity in New York City between the contract dollars given to the percentage of minority and women-owned enterprise and the percentage of companies ready, willing and able to do the work that are MWBEs--that disparity is unacceptable."

Does this, by his own analysis, speak of a tale of two cities?

Shifting in his seat only slightly, Liu responded quickly, "I never see things as a black-and-white circumstance. But there are people who are included and there are still lots of people who are not included. I want to make sure that everybody is included, and so I will refocus the procurement power of the office; and there is an additional boost with the economic stimulus package coming from President Obama, which immediately makes the pot bigger, and therefore, it is easier to share with the people."

The power of the comptroller's office here is in the fact that the economic stimulus package manifests itself in contracts that are channeled through the city agencies. The Department of Transportation, Liu noted, which has already received $700 million, was about to engage in the same old, same-old, a whole bunch of money but "with no accountability for job creation." A Liu administration, he assured, would knock this out the frame "because I will have to approve all of those contracts." He would, he said, "Send a very strong message that before contracts are approved in this city, a full-throttle effort at including MWBEs in the process--not just a half-hearted attempt, but a full-throttle effort--will be necessary before contracts are approved in the city."

Liu claims that he is not beholden to any of his supporters or backers. He is, he declared, an independent thinker.

"I have spent most of my career in the private sector, specifically finance, so I am not someone who has spent most of my career in government and politics," he said. "I have a very demanding view of what government can and should be doing, and I will take that view to the comptroller's office. And in terms of independence, that is the No. 1 most important thing about this office. There is a reason why the comptroller is a separately elected position because of the compelling need for independence."