By Kelsey Durham and Alex Robinson
Former city Comptroller John Liu has refused to accept defeat at the hands of state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) in a tight race that ended with the incumbent claiming victory and AP eventually giving him a winning margin of 568 votes.
The Associated Press called the Democratic primary race for Avella by a margin of just 4.4 percent a few minutes before midnight Tuesday, with 95 percent of precincts reporting. Only around 13 percent of registered Democrats in the district voted.
Avella declared himself the winner at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday before he was officially named by any media outlets, saying his campaign’s numbers showed he had won the election.
“We took a candidate who raised four times as much money as I did, had the support of the party machine, and tonight with your support, we did it,” Avella told supporters at CJ Sullivan’s in Bayside.
But Liu’s campaign maintained there were still about 1,000 absentee ballots and the official count had the two separated by less than 600 votes.
“It’s too close to call,” Liu said at Vivaldi Ristorante & Ballroom in Bay Terrace on Primary Night. “It’s a very close election. I know each and every one of you worked so hard to get us to this point.”
As of late Wednesday, the Board of Elections still had not counted the remaining 5 percent of the vote in the race, according to AP.
“Though the numerical results are still unclear and we’re going to have to take at least a few days, if not a week or so to get the final results, our campaign has succeeded already,” Liu said. “In fact, it succeeded a number of weeks ago, when we were successful in getting some so called Democrats to actually promise that they’re actually going to be Democrats.”
The two candidates have been engaged in one of the most hotly contested races in the state, since it could have implications for the balance of power in the state Senate.
Avella triggered a primary challenge from Liu and the Queens Democratic Party after he defected to the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group, which until recently controlled the state Senate with the GOP.
The IDC’s leadership recently reached a deal with mainline Democrats to form a new power sharing agreement between the two factions in the fall. This resulted in Democrats calling off every primary challenge to IDC senators except former state Attorney General Oliver Koppell’s challenge to IDC head Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) and Liu’s challenge to Avella.
Liu has been attempting to mount a political comeback after tumbling out of the 2013 mayoral race in fourth place, when an investigation into his campaign finance practices resulted in the conviction of his campaign treasurer and a fund-raiser. Liu was not accused of any wrong doing.
The former comptroller had the endorsement of most of the area’s elected officials and a number of unions in this year’s race. Avella won significant union support as well as endorsements from Mayor Bill de Blasio and U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Melville).
While Liu’s bid had the help of the party machine, Avella was aided by the New York League of Conservation Voters, an environmental organization which launched an aggressive campaign to get the senator re-elected.
The group knocked on more than 2,500 doors and spent more than $22,500 on voter canvassing and outreach, according to campaign finance filings.
The organization also developed a mobile website, which would send voters text messages with links to information about Avella’s record on environmental issues.
“There are traditional ways to reach voters at doors and by phone, but the smart phone stuff was quite interesting,” Said Dan Hendrick, the group’s vice president of external affairs. “More and more people aren’t sitting at home waiting for a knock from a stranger. We’re trying to hit people where they are.”
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.