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John Liu Says In Radio Interview That He Did Work In A Sweatshop

Mayoral Hopeful Says He Would Drop Stop-And-Frisk And Wouldn't Keep Ray Kelly
New York City Comptroller John Liu on the steps of City Hall (file / credit: Rob Kim/Getty Images)

New York City Comptroller John Liu on the steps of City Hall (file / credit: Rob Kim/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - John Liu, the Democratic New York City Comptroller and mayoral hopeful, tried to clarify what was a key part of his campaign for his current office.

Liu spoke with WCBS 880’s Steve Scott in Monday’s Eye on Politics segment and as part of the station’s continuing series of interviews with those hoping to take over the Big Apple.

In 2009, when then City Councilman Liu ran for comptroller, his television commercial featured a rather prominent mention of him having worked in a sweatshop as a child.

But the Daily News reported that wasn’t true.

Liu’s mother said “I never go to the factory” when interviewed by the Daily News.

So, did Liu work in a sweatshop?

“Yes, yes, I did,” he told Scott. “And in fact my mom did as well.”

“Look, I don’t blame the Daily News for continuing to go after me on this. What happened four years ago during the heat of the campaign for comptroller was that they wanted to interview by parents. I’m very proud of my parents’ background. I didn’t know exactly what they were going to ask. I didn’t prep my parents for anything. I set up the interview in my parents’ home. The reporter came. I left. I left them to their devices. And obviously some big misunderstanding happened in the ensuing 45 minutes,” he said.

“I should have been more sensitive to the fact that working in sweatshops and what we did when we first got here as immigrants, it’s not something that my folks ever talked about. They never called home to Taiwan and say ‘Hey, we’re working in a sweatshop,’ No they didn’t do that. But I should have been more sensitive about the fact that maybe they didn’t want to talk about it,” he said.

“It was not an investigation by the Daily News. I set up the interview at their request and so, regardless of all of that, it doesn’t change the history, a history that I am very proud of, a history that maybe my parents were not so thrilled about, the fact that that’s what they had to do to survive and to at first pursue the American Dream,” he said.

Liu closed the topic saying, “We did make it into the middle class, but it was because of a great deal of hard work, mostly on the part of my mom who really worked to her bones seven days a week.”

The next mayor will inherit a unionized workforce with mostly expired contracts.

“It is probably one of the biggest failures of the Bloomberg administration to go four years without resolving any of these contracts. Any halfway decent manager would resolve labor contracts and personnel costs,” Liu said. “Going forward, there is going to have to be serious negotiations with the union leadership and at the end of the day, I don’t think that the entire amount of the retroactive raises that have been talked about will be possible. But I also don’t believe that it will be zero. At some point, people have to recognize that our municipal workforce probably is at its lowest point in terms of morale for a very, very long time. It’s just been a huge climate of disrespect. What I believe is that we will find some money that is already inherent within the budget, some money that will be used to pay for some of the raises without having to increase tax rates.”

Is it all dollars and cents or has the situation become personal between the mayor and the unions?

“I think it’s not just about the money. I think at some point it’s just about respect,” Liu said. “For a long time, even the vast majority of the Bloomberg administration, retroactive pay increases were given to city employees. The message to the employees was that ‘We know your contract has expired, but please keep on working in good faith and we’ll figure it out. We’ll come to a good resolution.’ Well, that was true for most of the Bloomberg administration, but for the last four years, they’ve kind of thrown that out the window and expect the workers to just keep having good faith only then to have the mayor in recent years say it’s just going to be absolute zeros.”

“So, this is an issue not just of money, but it’s an issue of morale and respect,” he said. “I think, going forward, whoever takes over this administration and essentially becomes the new management for the government of the city of New York, it would behoove management well to lift the morale so that the organization, in this case the city employees and the city government, can move forward as effectively as possible. And in order to do that, we’ll find some of the money that’s necessary for the pay raise.”

Liu said that the controversial post of NYPD inspector general, which the City Council was poised to vote on, is not needed.

“I don’t think that the inspector general is necessary because that I believe is a distraction from the root problem and the root issue itself, which is the stop-and-frisk,” he said. “I don’t think that stop-and-frisk works. I think that it actually has divided communities away from the police, makes it more difficult for the cops to do their job and therefore makes it less safe for everybody.”

He said there is very little correlation between stop-and-frisk and the reductions in murders and the amount of guns taken off the street.

“We are almost led to believe that stop-and-frisk is the only that thing NYPD officers can do,” Liu said. “There are other strategies that have worked in major American cities that have not resorted to stop-and-frisk and yet have seen reductions in their crime numbers, strategies such as focused deterrence, where the police instead of assuming everybody’s guilty and stopping everybody and spreading their resources wide and thin, as in the case stop-and-frisk only to find that pretty much nine out of ten people that they’re stopping and frisking have done nothing wrong.”

“Instead of doing the police work hand in hand with the community leaders, with clergy and religious leaders in the neighborhoods to identify where the problems are and to focus the police resources effectively on criminality and possible criminality as opposed to, you know, humiliating hundreds of thousands of people unnecessarily,” Liu said.

Liu was asked if he’d keep Ray Kelly on as police commissioner and, put simply, his answer was no.

“In all fairness to Commissioner Kelly, this question comes up at almost every mayoral forum. Mayoral candidates keep getting asked this question. Honestly, I don’t know if anybody’s asked Ray Kelly if he wants to stay on,” Liu said. “He’s had a great service in 12 years as police commissioner under Mayor Bloomberg and four before that… So he already gets the chance to get out on top.”

“I basically will be looking for all new commissioners,” Liu said. “I’m looking to bring my own people in and new blood and fresh energy.”

To close the interview, John Liu was asked to say one thing the listeners may not know about him.

“I generally don’t talk that much about myself, my daily life,” he said.

“Well, you want to be mayor of New York. So, maybe you should,” replied Scott.

“Yes. Well, thanks for giving me the opportunity. Thanks for asking. I’m proud to be a husband. We’re going to celebrate our 18th anniversary this coming September. We have our son Joey who is just about finishing the seventh grade. I think the schools are doing a very good job with him, especially his critical thinking ’cause that’s the only way I can explain how perfectly sarcastic he can be with his mom and dad at the ripe old age of 12,” Liu said. “One of the things I enjoy doing is taking my son to school every day and it’s something that really keeps me in touch with my family because at the end of the day, the family is all you got.”

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