Energetic, dynamic, visionary, skilled and confident. These are a few words that best describe the New York City Comptroller John C. Liu. His decision to vie for a democratic ticket to contest for the mayoral elections does not surprise many. Most who know Mr. Liu know him as a highly confident man in New York. Even after embroiling in a scandal involving his campaign office accepting straw donors for funds, Mr. Liu stands strong to his decision of contesting for mayoral elections.
Mr. Liu’s mainstay is the large immigrant community. Son of an immigrant, he has, over the years, espoused vigorously and conscientiously the cause of the immigrant communities from every part of the world. He has assisted the Indian community in an extraordinary fashion. From raising a potent voice in favor of the Sikhs being allowed to wear their religious symbols and the headgear at workplace to relentlessly working against the mindset of intolerance projected by many in the city including, the police, to voicing concern about discrimination at schools, Mr. Liu has surely earned the spot for being the better choice of immigrant communities to lead New York City. From Mike Bloomberg’s poor administration to the insinuating allegations about his campaigns, John C. Liu spoke openly and frankly to Indrajit Saluja Editor-in-Chief and correspondent Pooja Premchandran of the Indian Panorama.
Q. So, Mr. Liu, when do we see you as Mayor of New York?
January 2014, of course!
Q. You always were a very confident man. Was it easy?
Well, it’s not always easy. A lot of people try to take that confidence away. They tried to get me out in a lot of ways. But you have to keep faith in yourself. For us, 2013 is a big year and we are always going to move forward. Its all systems go!
Q. How has your experience as the City Comptroller been so far?
I have been the City Comptroller for a little more than three years now. It’s been a very rewarding time. You can do a lot of things as a City Comptroller. But I accomplished all the goals I set out to in 2009 and its 2013 now. The big race is up for grabs. It does not look like Mike Bloomberg will run for the fourth time! Yet (he laughs) you never know! So I am in this race now. But politics is never easy in New York. The last year and a half has especially been very stressful with allegations and insinuations thrown at me about my fundraising.
Q. What actually went about with the fundraising?
My fundraising is just like any other fundraising conducted by other campaigners. Except for maybe, Bloomberg. He has a lot of money and I don’t. So I have to raise funds like everybody else. Although I am different too, in the sense that I have higher standards. Unlike my other competitors, I do not accept contributions from people doing business with the city. Also, unlike all my predecessors in this post, I do not accept contributions from Wall Street. Now we have to wait until April for the ruling but you never know what happens. Anything can happen. Even the NY Times has called it an exhaustive investigation.
Q. What is your campaign focusing on?
The campaign mainly stressed about economy and how to recover from the downturn we are facing. Besides this we also focus on the public schools in New York city, building housing for the million more people who are going to come to New York city. These are some of the issues that we need to address immediately. I want to work on them beginning next year.
Q. Can you explain in nutshell for our readers, what you would do if you are elected?
The main thing is equal opportunities that I do not believe exist in New York City. We have some opportunities, but it’s not equal. We came to America to look for equal opportunities. If you look at the wealth gap, the rich are getting richer, the middle class is slowly disappearing and the poorer working class are being left behind. I also propose changes in our tax and fiscal policies so that we can narrow down this wealth distribution gap and give everyone an equal opportunity so that the next economic recovery benefits everybody and not just the wealthy. Also, I want to address the situation with our public schools. They have become much like corporate business divisions where headquarters is mandating different things in all its business units or ‘schools’. The schools have to send them all these statistics to show what they are doing and if the headquarters don’t like what they are doing, they close down the school or they merge schools. It does not provide great education to our students. It is an inconvenience and it provides so much tension. We have to restore the learning environment for the students of public school. Lastly, we also have to build housing. By 2030, we expect another million to live in New York. We have to build housing for them or it will cause dangerous crowding situations.
Q. You have annoyed a lot of people with the recent Citi Time II case. What would you like to say to that?
I get very upset at this. The mayor says we don’t have money to continue after school programs. We don’t have money for summer youth employments; we don’t have money to provide working parents with day care centers. Yet, the city wastes hundreds and thousands of dollars with these major corporations. Last week, I put out a report stating that Hewlett-Packard must repay our city $163 million. The week before, I reported that Maria Corporation got a very sweet deal from the city. But at this point, the city has the ability and the opportunity to reclaim $345 million. These are just two of the latest examples. I have nothing against these companies. But they owe this money to the taxpayers of New York City. I have called upon the Bloomberg administration urging them to do so. This is not the money that should have been given to these companies.
Q. Is that just a recommendation to the administration or can that be mandatory?
As a Comptroller, I can put out the reports and show them how they can do it. But I cannot compel the City Hall to act on it. Citi Time II was the biggest fiasco in the Bloomberg administration but the City Hall did not act on it. That project was supposed to cost just $63 million. But by the time I became Comptroller, the city had already paid $700 million. So I put a stop to any additional payment for that project and started an audit. Two years later, the prosecutors were able to revive $500 million from the project. The Bloomberg administration refused to do anything about it so we tried to put pressure on them to do something about it.
Q. Depending on the pending ruling this April, do you have any different strategies for your campaigning before September?
I was hoping that everything would be over by February. I am shocked. I am honestly shocked by all of this. My ethics bar has been higher than anybody. We raise funds and we report disclosures like any other campaigns. I was extremely shocked by all this. The latest surprise is that the proceedings that were supposed to end by February have been further pushed. So who is to say they wont push it to another two months. All this is really shocking for me. But I am proceeding no matter what because all this is very political. I wont let nasty politics get in my way of campaigning. No matter what.
Q. There is widespread discrimination in the city. Be it discrimination mandated by police or against the Sikhs or other communities. What are your plans to address this?
I have time and again addressed these issues and used my powers as much as I can although I am limited to exercise them in terms of such discrimination, including violence in school against the Sikh students. I have visited many educational institutions to address these issues and not sweep them under the rug like others do. Also, I talked about the police must not observe or put people under surveillance because of their religion. There shouldn’t be any reason why the Sikhs are deterred from serving for the New York City police department just because they are not allowed to wear their turbans and grow a beard. Other major cities have already started employing them.
Q. It was your combined effort along with others that led MTA to allow the Sikhs to wear their turban and badge and serve the MTA?
Yes. The ridiculous idea that you have to have an MTA logo on a turban is extremely offensive. So we got the MTA to change that. But this is just the start. We still don’t find many such agencies willing to recruit Sikhs. We have to change that. So, in 2014 when I am victorious, you will see that it will all change very fast.
Q. You already have a lot of friends in the Sikh community?
Yes, and I want more people to be involved. I want the community to be involved more heavily. I want more people to register to vote.
Q. When is the last day to registration?
I do not even want to answer that. I don’t want people to wait till the last day to register. You must register next week! There is no waiting until the last day. Do it right away.
On behalf of The Indian Panorama and its readers we wish Mr. John Liu all the very best.