There was wistfulness about the Major Owens endorsement of Councilman John Liu on Monday at his congressional office where he’s been for 24 years. “We’re moving out in September,” the congressman said. “This is the last event we’ll be having here.” Before getting to the endorsement of Councilman Liu, the former congressman spoke of the issue of how issues of unfairness in the way “member items” or “earmarks”, the monies distributed at the discretion of individual lawmakers, cross federal, state and local levels. After his Medgar Evers students had researched the City Council, he found that “Speaker Christine Quinn received 10 times more than any council member in Brooklyn.”
Owens and Liu agree clear that they were not against member items, but rather how they are distributed. Owens contends that these items are a way for local politicians to answer some of the very local needs of the community. What he has a problem with is that “these items should be distributed equally across the membership. They all represent the same number of people, the items should be distributed equally.”
Owens spoke of Liu as someone who he trusts as “a professional finance person not connected with what I call the ‘Donocracy’ of New York,” which he described as a pool of people and institutions that funds any candidate that may win in return for access to power. According to Owens, a prime example of a beneficiary of the Donocracy, a “creature” of it as he says, is David Yassky, apparently a man for whom Owens does not have much respect, calling him “an empty suit, interested only in power.” Adding “John Liu is not owned by the Donocracy.”
Congressman Owens is adding his name to a long list of Liu supporters including 1199 SEIU, District Council 37 and many other unions and a wide cross section of politicians.
Answering a question on contracting, Liu said that the Bloomberg trend toward large single suppliers in the city purchasing system goes against efforts to include small and minority-owned enterprises. He wants to go to smaller bids so more small firms can participate. Liu said that with passage of legislation in Albany, the City Comptroller now has the authority to go into the Department of Education and audit their purchasing procedures.
On the question of whether the Comptroller’s office would play a role in ensuring that minority-worker components were adhered to in stimulus-related construction, Liu said ensuring a fair distribution of jobs was his highest priority.
Reflecting on his work on the council Transportation Committee, he was struck by how much work was contracted out to only two firms. Liu feels that much of the work could be done by city workers, and that billions of dollars are going outside the city and at the same time, city workers are deprived of opportunities.
Asked if he would be satisfied and stay in the Comptroller’s office were he to win, Liu said he’d serve his 4-year term and another if he could, but admitted, “Hey, I’m hungry. I’d like to be president.” You heard it here first.