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Yassky takes aim at government waste

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City Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn) started his political career crunching numbers in the city budget office more than 20 years ago, and although the post of head number cruncher may not be the most tantalizing to some, he begs to differ.

“The urgency to make the most out of every dollar is like it hasn’t been in 30 years,” Yassky said in a recent interview with TimesLedger Newspapers. “The role of comptroller, it’s always important, but at this point having a comptroller that’s serious about getting rid of waste is indispensable because it’s the only way to keep our quality of life.”

Yassky is one of four candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to replace city Comptroller Bill Thompson in the September primary in one of the most competitive races of the election season.

The 45-year-old, two-term councilman has spent the majority of his career in politics. After earning his law degree from Yale University, Yassky served as chief counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives Crime Subcommittee under now-U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and worked as a budget analyst for the city Office of Emergency Management.

He was elected to the Council in 2001.

Yassky said even though the economy makes the role of comptroller more challenging, there is tremendous opportunity to not only grow the city’s more than $100 billion pension fund, but to do so by placing a focus on burgeoning industries in the city.

“When the comptroller puts dollars on the table to say we’re prepared to invest in this, it gives you the ability to convene the corporate leadership to say we’re going to make a concerted effort to develop the biotech sector, the environmental technology sector,” Yassky said.

The comptroller also acts as the city’s chief auditor, a role that will be crucial to the city’s financial success, according to Yassky.

He said he hopes to take a hard look at how the city Departments of Buildings, Aging, Education and Housing Preservation and Development operate — city agencies he believes have a lot of waste to cut.

“The test of any government program is what are we getting for the dollars we’re spending,” Yassky said. “In the HPD, for example, some of the Housing programs are cost effective, but sometimes they wind up spending $600,000 or $700,000 to create one unit. I also think some of the tax loopholes for developers have proved to be ineffective, meaning way too many dollars spent for what they achieve.”

Yassky said he would push for much of the added scrutiny to begin in the City Council, where he says member items, or pork funding, should be cut back drastically while deeper analysis of city agency waste should be emphasized.

“I think it’s all well and good for elected officials to make sure the budget includes funding for local projects, but the Council needs to exercise more of its prerogative over the whole budget.” Yassky said. “The Council should be finding the waste in agencies that the commissioners are not able to see and clean up on their own. Right now the budget process we have makes it very difficult to do that.”

In Queens, Yassky by no means has the home field advantage, facing off against longtime borough political veterans in fellow City Council members John Liu (D-Flushing), Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) and David Weprin (D-Hollis).

Yassky said that does not make them the best candidate for Queens, however.

“I’ll put my accomplishments up against anybody and certainly against the other people in this race. I think there are a lot of ways to serve in government. I think I’m particularly suited for that office because of my budget background.”

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

Posted 6:33 pm, October 10, 2011
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