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Liu says comptroller race not about data

City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) says he is out to prove the office of city comptroller is more than data and numbers — it is about the people they affect.

Liu is one of four major Democratic candidates — the others being Council members Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), David Weprin (D-Hollis) and David Yassky (D-Brooklyn) — vying to replace current Comptroller Bill Thompson, who is running for mayor.

In a recent interview with TimesLedger Newspapers, Liu said he has a leg up on his opponents because he believes he has both a unique background and plans to take an equally unique approach if elected as the city’s financial czar.

“I’m not running to keep the budgets balanced. That’s what I’ll do, but that’s not why I’m running,” Liu said. “This is about the lives of the people of this city and the city has shown a cold side to them too much.”

Liu also has a decidedly different political path than his three competitors. A Taiwanese immigrant, Liu jumped into politics from the private sector after working for several years at brokerage house PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

After one failed bid to unseat then-Councilwoman Julia Harrison in 1997, Liu went on to defeat her four years later to become the first Asian American elected to the Council, a position he has held since. While serving in the Council, Liu has been head of the Transportation Committee, where he has pushed hard for fiscal accountability from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“If you look at all of my rivals, they have all spent most of their lives in politics,” he said. “I came from the private sector. I ran for office because I was discontent about the way things were being run. I ran to do something to change that, not to be part of a political machine.”

During the last seven years, Liu has generated a unique and passionate following. Whitestone resident Alfred Kahn, at 96, can likely claim to be Liu’s eldest supporter. Kahn has campaigned for Liu since 1997 and said he would not dream of supporting anyone else.

“He’s one of the most qualified candidates running for any office I’ve seen in my entire life. He’s going to be mayor,” Kahn said.

As his wife leaned over to correct him to say comptroller, Kahn said he was not mistaken.

“I know what he’s running for. But he’s going to be mayor one day,” he said.

But though Liu said his campaign focuses on people and not numbers, when it comes to aspects of the job that deal with numbers, such as how to invest the city’s more than $100 billion pension fund, he does not flinch.

“Obviously, the city pension has taken a big hit in the stock market. Our allocation of stocks to bonds has not had the right allocation. The holdings, moving forward, need to have more of a 70/30 mix. That’s 70 percent stocks versus 30 percent bonds.”

Thus far, Liu has been coy about his policy positions, but said, as he releases his platform in the coming months, it will be straightforward: generating pension investment returns, extensively auditing city agencies to bolster efficiency, maximizing stimulus funding to create jobs for New Yorkers and providing complete transparency within the office of comptroller.

“This is a position that’s going to be ever more critical as we move through this economic crisis,” Liu said. “This is all with the purpose of delivering more to New Yorkers with less.”

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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