Garodnick: Liu’s woes make it ‘impossible to get some very important initiatives done’

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City Councilman Dan Garodnick said City Comptroller John Liu's troubles "have made it impossible to get some very important initiatives done."

Those initiatives include realigning the management of the five public pension funds, and auditing city agencies. The audits that "are being done are being viewed entirely in a political lens," Garodnick said.

He was speaking to reporters in a low-key event outside City Hall this afternoon, where he stood surrounded by a handful of reporters and a few aides. (Two possible explanations for the relative lack of interest: he had already signaled his intention to run to The Times, and released a video formally announcing his plans this morning.)

When Garodnick arrived at City Hall, there were no campaign signs, no supporters or anything indicating he had raised more than $1 million for a serious citywide campaign. I arrived a few minutes early and, seeing the empty City Hall steps, wondered along with a few other reporters if the event was taking place elsewhere.

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Garodnick, for his part, tried talking about his qualifications, repeatedly using the words "independent" and "trust." He did not directly assail Liu.

"I've known John for years," he said. "We worked together on the Council and I like him very much, personally. But the comptroller's office needs a reset. The distractions over there have made it impossible to get some very important initiatives done."

When told of Garodnick's comments, a spokemsan in Liu's office declined to comment.

I asked Garodnick for his opinion on one major point of disagreement between Liu and Mayor Michael Bloomberg: rising pension costs for public employees. Bloomberg has blamed defined benefits plans and overly generous pension deals granted by state lawmakers; Liu and his allies say it's the under-performance of Wall Street, where lots of pension funds are invested.

"Well," Garodnick said, "I think that it is a little bit of both. You can't ignore the fact that our pension costs have grown so significantly." But, he said, the assumption that pension investments would yield an eight percent return annually has "also been too generous."

Garodnick's low-key event might have been a nod to the political reality of an uphill challenge against a sitting incumbent. While Liu is reportedly still interested in the mayor's race, despite the arrest of his campaign treasurer and a top fund-raiser, it's possible he'll run for re-election instead, and so far no union has publicly abandoned the incumbent, and it's not yet clear who will publicly join a campaign to oust Liu.

Of course, by not rolling out any supporters he has privately signed on so far, Garodnick can trickle now them out steadily in the weeks and months ahead.

UPDATE: Liu's campaign spokesman emailed to say, "Dan is a perceptive politician who knows of some of the private conversations John has had recently. The announcement today is a smart move on his part to get a jump on his competitors. John wishes him well."