There were high hopes this morning that an audit finding by new comptroller John Liu that the city’s development agency was hoarding $125 million it owes our cash-starved city would lead to the first big clash between the comptroller and the mayor.
Alas, those hopes were shot down midway through Liu’s tele-press conference just now when it was revealed that Bloomberg also says his agency should give up the dough, most of which was raked in from the 42nd Street redevelopment project.
Update: It’s game on! Bloomberg aides vigorously dispute any such concession. Although the mayor doesn’t say straight out that the comptroller can take a hike, he issued this statement this afternoon backing up his development agency: “The City takes from EDC hundreds of millions of dollars in funds it collects on the City’s behalf and leaves it an agreed-upon amount so it can do things like operate the City’s loan guarantee program for small businesses and plan for important area-wide redevelopment projects like Hunter’s Point South and Coney Island. EDC’s contract with the City and its independently-audited financials are reviewed by the Comptroller every year, and all of it is public on EDC’s website.”
This is all good, because Liu was talking pretty tough before that point: “EDC [Economic Development Corporation] has been uncooperative to say the least in handing over these funds,” Liu said. “They’ve been throwing every excuse in the book to keep the funds. It highlights the need to rein in this agency.”
That is sweet music to a lot of people’s ears, since EDC is the self-powered mega-agency that controls most of the big projects around the city, from 42nd Street to Willets Point.
An EDC spokesman told the Times yesterday that Liu’s auditors were wrong about owing the money and defended the agency, insisting that it carries out its “mission in a transparent manner.” (That last bit is pretty funny, coming from an outfit that hates even being listed in the city Green Book.)
The tele-presser also got interesting when an operator interrupted Liu mid-sentence to announce that the conference call would end in 10 minutes. One press wiseacre cracked over the open line: “This is like being on a payphone.” Liu’s response: “Don’t worry, we have some extra nickels.” Question: Is it is a good thing that the city’s comptroller thinks payphones still take nickels?
Liu has been in office for 118 days, as he noted at the call’s start. But he’s already stolen a move from the mayor’s playbook: leaking the story a day earlier to the Times, which gave it a Page One ride. Which raises another question: If you leak to the Times, does Murdoch’s new “Greater New York” section of the Journal exact a punishment? We can only hope.
Note Two: Yes, someone misspelled “hoards” in Liu’s audit headline. Big deal. He was hired to count, not spell.