The 2010 inauguration attracted a broader cross section of NYC residents than in years past. The marked increase in cultural diversity was due to the inauguration of John Liu, the first Asian-American to be elected to the position of comptroller, a citywide office.
During his inaugural speech on the steps of City Hall, Liu hinted at the direction of the comptroller’s office under his leadership. Liu promised he would “work every day for the taxpayers as the chief financial officer of this city to serve as a watchdog over use of funds for its infrastructure and generate sustainable opportunities for residents and local businesses and for the future of our retirees through responsible management of investments and protecting the assets of the city’s pension funds.” He promised he will examine past and future development agreements and ensuring tangible promises of affordable housing and job creation are actually delivered. Liu said he will “work every day for the democratic principles of shared prosperity by ensuring that women and minority-owned businesses receive equal access to city contracts.” Comptroller Liu said he would “work everyday to realize promises of reform, eliminating waste and fraud from the city’s budget by examining the millions of dollars in no-bid contracts where justifications are weak at best.”
After the formal ceremonies, attendees – Blacks and white, Chinese, Sikh, Korean – trekked to Liu’s reception. A diverse group of city, state and federal elected officials congratulated Liu. Michael Mulgrew, UFT President thanked “John personally for standing up to people who don’t like when people stand up to them. John has demonstrated this throughout his career.” State Senator John Sampson said “Immigrants have built this country. It is time we get our just due.” Congressman Jerrold Nadler noted Liu’s remarkable story: “Almost all of us are the children or grandchildren of immigrants. It is rare to see someone who was born in a different country, speaking a different language be sworn into an office this high. That is quite an achievement.”
Bill Thompson introduced Liu with sentimental, heartfelt remarks. “This is my first speech as former comptroller of this city. I feel honored and privileged on this inaugural day – a time of renewal, hope and promise – to celebrate our new city comptroller, John Liu. We celebrate John’s family – his wife, his son, his parents, and all that they have done. Congratulations to all of you. I know that John will serve with the same dedication, commitment, and enthusiasm that he has shown throughout his entire public life.”
Thompson spoke of his friendship with Liu. “I have had the pleasure of knowing Comptroller Liu for a long time. I have had the opportunity to work with him on a number of pressing issues. I can tell you from experience that he is a man who never lets pettiness or politics get in the way of principles or progress. A man who focuses on the next generation, rather than the next election. A man who never substitutes rhetoric for results. The city confronts an historic economic crisis, one that will continue to shape our communities and test our resolve. I leave office confident because we have a public servant like John Liu taking the helm as our city’s chief financial officer. I am confident because throughout his whole life Comptroller Liu has demonstrated a remarkable ability to rise and meet challenges. His journey to this moment is not a typical tale. It is a journey that stretches from Taiwan to Flushing to the City Council and now to the comptroller’s office. Throughout all, he has defied odds. That is why his unique and inspiring story is in so many ways part of the larger New York story. It is proof that our city remains a beacon of hope and a place where anything is possible. I know that with his passion, his energy and ideas John Liu will be committed to ensuring that future generations will have the same opportunities that he has had.”
Thompson concluded his remarks with this: ” I know that Comptroller Liu will build on many of our successes as well as set a new course that is guided by his own ambition, priorities, and ideas. A course that will uphold NBY’s great tradition as a city of opportunity by using the office to empower communities, help New Yorkers build better lives and better futures. I have no doubt that New York’s brightest days are ahead. However, those days will not come quickly or easily. Hard work lies before us. The next four years will be a time of great change and challenges. Although much of our future remains uncertain – we not know what the future holds – I do know that New York will be served well by our new comptroller.”
Liu thanked Bill Thompson, and said he was “a great comptroller for 8 years. Thank you Bill, for keeping our city on sound fiscal footing. For holding people’s feet to the fire in this City, and for making sure our people are well served. And thank you Bill, for the past several weeks, for the smoothest, most efficient transition anybody coming into office could hope for. Bill leaves me with an office of 700 people as public servants in their own right. Ensuring that the people of this city are taken care of.”
Thanking his parents, Liu said, “Without my mom and dad, giving up everything in Taiwan and moving here.so that me and my brothers can grow up American, none of this would have been possible. They made the transition 30-something years ago. To this day, they continue to work hard.” Liu also thanked his brothers Robert and Edward, and his wife Jenny Lee Liu.
Acknowledging the significance of the moment, Comptroller Liu said, “This year has been historic. It was never my intention to be the first Asian to be elected to the City Council, or now to sit in my office as NYC Comptroller. This is an important time for our community. It is our time to have a seat at the table. It is also our time to realize with that seat comes responsibilities. A rising tide lifts all ships. As the Asian-American community continues to grow, so will the rest of NY. As you look at this room, we have NYers of all stripes, all backgrounds, all nationalities, all religions. That is what NY is about.”
Liu addressed the crowd by saying, “We have to make sure we unlock the synergy of the diversity of NYC. It is no longer acceptable just to talk about diversity. That is the only way we can unlock the true potential of NYC. We have to do so in a way that allows everybody the same fair share of equal opportunity. I will use every power of the Office of the Comptroller to ensure that everybody does have that economic fair share. Equal opportunity. Fair access. A government that protects everybody on a level playing field. A lot of us have seen the other side of the equation when we were left out. No longer. Nobody gets left behind. Going forward as we get through this economic time, we will make sure that everybody rises all together. That is what NYC is about. I will never forget that. Thank you for this opportunity to serve.”
Representing the excitement in the crowd, one young Asian-American woman beamed with pride. Tina, age 21, said, “John Liu represents a new hope that Asian-Americans can take part in the process. We are no longer just observers.”
A military officer who served 6 tours in Iraq and Afghanistan said he came from Texas to witness the historic event. David C. said, “I want to learn how to be a good public servant. You see [Liu] as a fellow Asian American, being in a situation where he can make a difference. It is inspiring to me. It has given me ambition; something to follow. I came here from Texas at Thanksgiving. I found out about John Liu from my friends. I wanted to witness this day. It is a proud day for Asian Americans. A proud day for America. A proud day for NYC. I am privileged to be here. One day, I will be Mayor of NYC. That is my goal. When I get out, I want to serve as a public servant.”
David explained. “To see a man like that rise above all the tribulations as an Asian American, that is a proud day. When he talked about his family, what they sacrificed to come to the land of the free, America. That is what my parents did as well. My parents are from Seoul, South Korea. They gave up so much, done so much for me and my brother to live this dream, I want to live this dream in NYC, come back home and help the people of NYC and America. I am going to quote a movie – Spiderman – ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ I have a lot of power, but it does not compare to the power Liu will have. And if he becomes Mayor of NYC… with power, you can help people. I brought my friends to witness this day. This is a great day for all of us.”