By Joe Anuta
The fraud convictions of two former campaign aides to city Comptroller John Liu has not helped his run for higher office, but the jury’s decision may influence whether the Queens Democratic Party will endorse the lawmaker’s mayoral bid, borough political observers said.
Jia “Jenny” Hou, Liu’s former campaign treasurer, was found guilty of attempted wire fraud, obstructing justice and making false statements to the FBI after a two-week trial in Manhattan federal court, while Xing Wu “Oliver” Pan was convicted of conspiring to commit wire fraud and attempted wire fraud last week. They both participated in a scheme to use straw donors — people who donate on behalf of others — to swell the coffers of Liu’s mayoral war chest.
“His campaign clearly has suffered a hit because of these convictions,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a nonpartisan good government group. “But there remains a very strong base of support for him.”
An April 19 Quinnipiac poll put Liu in last place, garnering 9 points and coming in behind former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner.
The Queens Democrats, led by U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), will probably be making their selection toward the end of the month, according to several sources. It will give them time to see who has raised money as of the May 11 filing deadline with the city Campaign Finance Board, but will still allow them to make a selection before the June start of petitioning — the process of gathering signatures for a candidate to get on the ballot.
Liu, the only Queens Democrat in the race, formerly led a faction of a Flushing Democratic club and served as the district’s City Council representative from 2001-09. He has a loyal base in the city’s Asian-American community — which has probably been galvanized by the perception he is being singled out — and according to sources, he has been a reliable fund-raiser for the party.
But political insiders are wondering whether his monetary contributions and clout can now outweigh the negative impact of the convictions.
One theory being circulated is that Crowley may instead endorse Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) on the condition she either picks a Queens representative to replace her as speaker or selects a borough Council member as the head of a powerful committee, such as Land Use or Finance.
The party said that it could not discuss endorsements until leaders met during a yet-to-be scheduled session..
According to Dadey, the Queens party has a history of supporting diverse candidates.
“Absent specific charges against Liu himself, the Queens party may be hard-pressed to support someone other than John Liu,” he said, adding that hints of a witch hunt may not sit well with voters, who may come out to support him.
Hou and Pan are set to be sentenced Sept. 20, 10 days after the Democratic primary but four days before a potential runoff.
Despite the blemish that will last throughout the election, Liu has dared prosecutors to try and make a case against him, since they have been scrutinizing his campaign for years without coming up with any charges. The feds even tapped Liu’s phone for about 18 months, he said.
George Arzt, well-known in lobbyist and public relations circles and formerly Liu’s spokesman until July 2012, said that nothing will stop the lawmaker from running for Gracie Mansion.
“John is going to run for mayor no matter what. And that the convictions of Oliver Pan and Jenny Hou, while damaging in the public eye, will not deter him,” Arzt said.
But Queens political sources said Liu might not be in the race to win anyway. As long as he makes a decent showing — between 10 percent to 15 percent of the vote — he could walk away from the race with his head held high and possibly run for office again down the road.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.