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Liu poised to face Avella for Senate

By Alex Robinson

In a widely anticipated move, former city Comptroller John Liu announced Thursday he would challenge state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who recently bolted from the mainline Democrats and joined the Independent Democratic Conference.

He stopped by the Democratic Party’s state convention Thursday morning to put in some face time with party brass and was set to attend a string of public events that day with Korean, Chinese and LGBT groups. The Asian community has been Liu’s fund-raising base in past campaigns and 26.1 percent of eligible voters in Avella’s district are Asian, according to state redistricting maps.

Liu, who is set to officially kick off his campaign Friday morning in Bayside, has already scored the endorsement of the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council.

“I humbly declare my candidacy for the state Senate to represent northeast Queens, where I’ve lived and grown up my whole life and am now raising my own family,” Liu said in a statement. released early Thursday. “This community is a bedrock of New York, and the people here rightfully demand and deserve effective results-oriented representation.

Liu, the first Asian American elected to a city office as a councilman in 2002, added: “I will tirelessly fight for a real minimum wage, rights for working people, women’s equality and resources for public schools, transportation and health care.”

The announcement ended months of speculation following Liu’s exit from office after his failed mayoral campaign in September.

The former city comptroller took fourth place in the mayoral Democratic primary after an investigation into his office’s campaign finances derailed his campaign and resulted in the indictment of his campaign treasurer and a fund-raiser.

Liu was not accused of any wrongdoing, but the city’s campaign finance board subsequently refused the mayoral hopeful public matching funds of $3.5 million, for which he is now suing the city.

His busy public schedule since he left office fueled rumors he might run for Congress against U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, but he put those unfounded reports to bed when he endorsed the first-term congresswoman for re-election in March.

“It never came from me,” he told a reporter at the convention. “At some point, I just enjoyed watching all these rumors fly all over the city.”

The Queens Democratic Party officially nominated Liu as its candidate Monday morning at a county committee designation meeting. U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), who heads the Queens Democratic Party, has been actively pushing Liu to run against Avella. The two-term senator angered party leadership in February when he joined the Independent Democratic Conference, which controls the Senate with the Republicans.

“There are many Democrats who are rightfully offended by Tony Avella’s betrayal of those who elected him and it’s not surprising that someone who is consistently progressive in his career as John Liu would share that feeling,” said Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), who heads the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.

Gianaris declined to say how much funding the committee was prepared to put into defeating Avella.

“We certainly expect to be supportive as we would in any district of a Democratic candidate who we expect to sit with other Democrats,” Gianaris said. “There are real world consequences to Tony Avella’s self-serving decision.”

When reached for comment on the nomination, Avella issued the following statement:

“I’m proud of my record — fighting for the working class residents of Queens and delivering on core Democratic legislation that makes a meaningful difference in their lives. I work for the people I represent — not for the Queens party bosses or political insiders. Whether it’s helping our seniors, passing marriage equality or protecting our environment, I have always fought for the issues that matter most to the people of my district and I look forward to discussing my progressive record in the months ahead.”

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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