At an announcement about Facebook and a hoped-for tech boom, Bloomberg defends a Liu hire

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Sandberg, Bloomberg, Serkan Piantino, Schumer. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended Comptroller John Liu's decision to hire a former executive from MF Global, a brokerage firm that filed for bankruptcy on Halloween after an epic collapse, to manage the city's $135 billion pension system.

"Larry Schloss, I’ve known for a long time," said Bloomberg, referring to the city's deputy comptroller for pensions and its chief investment officer. "He’s a very smart guy, a very honest guy. The city is lucky to have him. He’s the kind of guy who could make an awful lot of money, I think, in the private sector, and I’m just glad that he’s willing to work for the city, because he’s a very competent guy."

"The other guy I just don’t know," added Bloomberg, referring to Kevin Davis, whom Schloss hired away from MF Global in September to oversee the city pension system's new commodities program.

Even as he continues to deal with investigations into his fund-raising activities, Liu has been criticized in recent days for hiring the two former executives of MF Global, whose financial management is now under scrutiny by the S.E.C., among others.

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Investigators are searching for $1.2 billion said to be missing from its customer accounts. "On Thursday," reported Reuters, "Mary Schapiro, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, told a committee of Congress the SEC was investigating the accounting treatment that helped mask MF Global's exposure to risky foreign sovereign debt."

On Friday, the Daily News editorial page took the mayor to task for hiring Davis, asking, "What was city Comptroller John Liu thinking?"

The mayor also said it was possible the fund-raising controversy surrounding Liu would slow down a pension-reform plan he announced with the comptroller in October.

“I’m sure that is going to make it more difficult to do that,” he said. “So hopefully he can take care of his problems and address the issues and get back to working on this.”

The mayor made his remarks following a press conference at Facebook's Madison Avenue offices that was officially about the company's intention to create an engineering department in New York City. It will be Facebook's first engineering group that's not on the West Coast.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, declined multiple entreaties from reporters to say precisely how many engineers she intended to hire.

The firm's New York Facebook page, FBNYC, lists 15 employment opportunities, only five of which are for engineering positions.

Facebook opened its New York office in 2007. It has about 100 staff members, who focus on marketing. The company has 3,000 employees overall, the vast majority of them out west.

The announcement was also intended by City Hall to be seen in the larger context of Bloomberg's ongoing efforts to cultivate a globally competitive tech sector in New York City.

"Facebook’s decision to come to New York and tap into our tremendous wealth of tech talent I think is conclusive proof that we’re well on our way to achieving our goal, and that is to become the world’s number one hub for information technology and social media," said Bloomberg. "I think the evidence really is just overwhelming."

The mayor pointed to homegrown companies like Meetup, Etsy, and Hunch as examples of the vibrancy of New York's tech sector.

He also took the opportunity to highlight his administration's efforts to create a high-tech university campus in the city.

"With some of the world’s top universities bidding to build a new science and tech campus here, one that we expect to spin off hundreds of new companies and create some 22,000 jobs in the years to come, I think our future looks bright, because we want the next Facebook to start here in New York City," he said.

The pool of applicants for up to $100 million in city infrastructure investments and free city land has been whittled from seven to five. A decision is expected in early January.

Senator Charles Schumer, who was also at the press conference, concurred with the mayor's assessment of the day's news.

"One of the things that we’ve always needed to bolster to become the information technology capital of the world is enginnering," said the senator. "And the fact that a company like Facebook is locating engineers here says that we have turned the corner. And that is just great news. It is so important."

When a reporter asked Sandberg if she agreed that New York could become the tech capital of the world, she demurred, and allowed Schumer to answer for her.

"Bloomberg and I think so," he said.