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Fireworks explode at comptroller debate

Hometown favorite David Yassky responded to tough questioning at this week’s debate among the four City Council candidates running in the September Democratic primary for City Comptroller.

The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce sponsored the forum at St. Francis College and it drew about 75 people.

The verbal sparring was set up after moderator Michael Scotto questioned the four candidates, including Yassky and fellow City Councilmembers Melinda Katz, John Liu and David Weprin, about last year’s Council slush fund scandal.

The scandal involved some Council members hiding earmarked money in some district non-profit organizations that didn’t exist.

All the candidates except Yassky answered that reforms were needed, but that discretionary money was still useful to fund legitimate non-profits that do good work in the district.

Yassky, however, said he favors getting rid of member items and discretionary funds.

At this point, Liu pointed out that Yassky himself gave $40,000 in discretionary money to a somewhat questionable non-profit organization.

Yassky challenged Liu to put his money where his mouth is and tell the audience which $40,000 he was speaking about.

Liu said that local Brooklyn newspapers reported that Yassky had given money to the Neighborhood Association Corporation, run by his Council predecessor Stephen Debrienza.

Yassky responded that the money went for youth basketball and soccer programs, but then admitted under further questioning that he stopped funding the organization.

Liu also encouraged the audience to cheer and clap if they felt like it -- much to the chagrin of Scotto, who prompted audience members to keep quiet.

Yassky got stronger throughout the debate, pointing out how the city is overzealous in forcing small businesses to get unnecessary licenses. He even noted how one small business in his district received a $3,000 fine because they did not have a license to sell used furniture.

While Liu and Yassky traded barbs, Katz portrayed herself as a working-class kid born and raised in Queens, who worked her way through law school and spent several years in Albany as an assembly member before becoming a council member.

“In a time of economic turmoil we need to create jobs,” said Katz, pledging that as comptroller she will invest city pension money only in companies that invest in New York.

Katz said she also favored the progressive tax so that some of the wealthier New Yorkers will not pay the same tax rate as public school teachers.

Weprin, the Council finance committee chair, pointed out his wealth of experience in both private and public sector finance, and said he is committed to opening a satellite comptroller’s office in all five boroughs.

The comptroller position requires an independent comptroller, said Weprin, who will act as a watchdog over city agency finances and open up city contracts to small businesses with an eye toward minority- and women-owned companies.

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