By Mark Hallum
Former City Comptroller John Liu has moved closer to getting on the ballot for the September Democratic primary to challenge state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) for the second time by gathering 3,000 necessary signatures in just under a week. He will be on the ballot if his signatures survive challenges.
A July 13 announcement was made outside Dunkin’ Donuts on Bell Boulevard and 73rd Avenue, where City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) followed through on his recent effort to throw support behind opponents of former members of the Independent Democratic Conference, which broke away from the mainstream party to work with the Republican majority in the state Senate.
“He’s someone who has a deep track record and history of being on the right side of all the issues that matter to these communities in eastern Queens,” Johnson said in his endorsement of Liu. “Many of the issues that have bubbled up over last 18 months during this horrific administration at the federal level, whether it be immigration or whether it be treating workers appropriately and fairly, these are issues that John Liu had been leading on a decade ago
“We do not need fake Democrats, we need real Democrats.”
Avella was one of eight members of the breakaway IDC, which has been the target of intense criticism for its negotiation efforts with Republicans.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, with the support of U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) brokered a deal with the IDC members to rejoin the mainline party to retake the majority on the condition they would not face primary challenges.
Primary challenges ensued despite this peace agreement and in the wake of Crowley’s stunning defeat at the hands of progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Johnson has since broken that ceasefire by endorsing progressive challengers to former IDC officials.
From Queens, the IDC also included state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), who is facing a challenge from Jackson Heights activist Jessica Ramos. Ramos received her endorsement by Johnson just days after the Crowley upset.
“I would love to have a Democratic state senator representing me. And I don’t mean a Democrat on paper, I mean a real Democrat,” City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) said with his endorsement of Liu. “We all see what’s going on in Washington and how horrible it is. We know in the City Council that there are things we can do in New York City and [the state] to fight back to resist what Trump is trying to do to this country and advance the interests of our people. But we can’t do that while the Republicans hold the state Senate hostage.”
Lancman said he was “embarrassed” that Avella, who represents the 11th Senate District stretching from College Point to Little Neck, defected to the IDC and claimed the group empowered Republicans instead of carving a path for progressive legislation to pass.
Avella slammed Liu’s campaign scandal for comptroller dating back to 2009, when his ex-campaign treasurer Jia Hou and fund-raiser Xing Wu Pan were convicted of using straw donors. While Liu was targeted in this investigation, he was never charged.
“The voters of this district have a choice to reject disgraced politician John Liu, who wants to bring his scandal-ridden style of politics to Albany,” a spokesman for Avella said. “Or, they can choose Senator Avella, who will again run this race on his tremendous constituent services record and his strong voting record as a Democrat in support of women’s right to choose, paid family leave, raise the age, environmental protection, good government reform and the many important values that we as Democrats want in our elected officials.”
Avella is a co-sponsor of Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or expression.
Groups such as No IDC NY, led by Jackson Heights resident Susan Kang, attended the Friday press conference.
Liu’s challenge to Avella was impromptu, with the announcement he was launching a petition drive coming to the surface July 6 – less than a week before the deadline for the 3,000 signatures July 12.
Unless the signatures are successfully challenged through the Board of Elections, Liu will be on the ballot for the Sept. 13 state Democratic primary.
This is the second time Liu will be challenging Avella. In 2014, he came short of a victory over the incumbent, elected in 2009, by a little over 500 votes.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall