Wannabe watchdogs under hot lights

The Brooklyn Paper
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From saving city money to doling out discretionary funds to Atlantic Yards, the four candidates for City Comptroller took off the gloves in their latest verbal battle.

The joust came in a Community Newspaper Group/Brooklyn Independent Televison-sponsored debate to be shown on Brooklyn Cable Access Television (BCAT).

Squaring off for the city’s chief financial watchdog position were City Councilmembers John Liu, Melinda Katz, David Weprin and David Yassky.

Under the solid questioning of BIT moderator Brian Vines and CNG reporters Stephen Stirling of the Queens Times-Ledgers newspapers and Dan Beekman from the Bronx Times-Reporter, the four candidates were given ample time to air their views and take shots at each other.

In regard to saving the city money, Yassky said that if elected he would tell his staff to go in and audit every city agency to insure there was no waste.

The comptroller’s main constituency are average citizens struggling to pay the rent, and municipal waste of money must be found, he said.

Weprin said many people in the city don’t know exactly what the comptroller position entails and repeated his often stated vow to open up an office in each of the city’s five boroughs.

This way local residents can see how the comptroller looks at city issues and how the role is relevant to the average people, he said.

Liu stated the comptroller position is akin to being the chief financial officer of the city, a point person who pores over city contracts and wasteful spending while investing city pension money.

Among the city agencies that need to be watched closely include the Department of Education (DOE) and the Industrial Development Agency, Liu said.

Katz agreed with Liu that there could be a savings found in the DOE.

“The comptroller’s job is to look at the [city’s] books and make for a more efficient government,” said Katz.

Regarding both the City Council and mayor’s office doling out discretionary funds and member items, all the candidates indicated they must be more closely watched, but only Yassky said he favors doing away with them.

Katz questioned Yassky about this, noting that many smaller community-based organizations in the outer boroughs would lose essential funding for key programs in less funded City Council districts.

Yassky replied that it’s one thing to fund a local Little League with $5,000, but all larger sum grants such as for $100,000 or better should go through an open bidding process.

Liu said it’s important to know what kinds of organizations get funds and it’s important to look at no-bid contacts doled out for city services.

There must be no taint of politics in handing out these contracts, he said.

Weprin said that in the wake of last year’s City Council slush fund scandal, he would do more audits of both the mayor and City Council discretionary spending.

“Transparency in government is a real problem,” he said.

When questioned about Atlantic Yards, all the candidates said they would not favor giving developer Bruce Ratner any more city subsidies for the $4.9 billion project at the Flatbush/Atlantic avenues intersection.

Yassky and Liu spoke out more adamantly against the project, with Yassky saying Ratner should give back the money he already got for the project, and Liu saying Ratner has promised the sky and the stars with nothing to show for it.

Katz and Weprin were more nuanced, although they both said they would not give Ratner any more city subsidies.

Weprin, though, did say that if Ratner did get federal tax exemptions it could be a win-win for the city in regard to affordable housing and jobs.

Likewise, Katz said that while she wouldn’t agree to giving Ratner more subsidies, it is important to look at the jobs in the city and keep unions working.

This lively debate can be seen in its entirety on Brooklyn Independent Television on the BCAT Network at 9 p.m. Thursday, August 20.

All shows will be cablecast on the BCAT TV Network on Time Warner 56, Cablevision 69, RCN 84 and Verizon 44.

It will also be available online 24 %u2013 48 hours after the airing at

Coverage of each race and more can be found on CNG’s website

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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