By Steven Goodstein
John Liu, the former city comptroller and city councilman from Flushing, is preparing for another challenge to state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) in a replay of the Democratic primary four years ago.
Liu is planning to hold Avella accountable for his membership in the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Democrats who separately caucused from other state Senate Democrats until April when they agreed to rejoin the mainstream party.
The IDC was led by Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) and included Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), the other rebel member from Queens, along with six other senators.
“One of my goals is to help advance measures that the IDC and the Senate Republicans have blocked for years,” Liu said in an email, citing full funding for public schools as well as the Reproductive Health Act, which gives women the right to determine the course of a pregnancy.
Liu’s intention to run against Avella surfaced after political newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cruz defeated U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) June 26 in a stunning Democratic primary upset that has emboldened candidates to challenge incumbents.
“In this short amount of time, there has already been a great deal of support,” Liu said. “Whether it is City Council members who came out to petition for me or voters in the district — they will be the reason a real Democrat is elected on Sept. 13.”
Liu was working to acquire a total of 3,000 signatures before Thursday’s midnight deadline file for the September primary.
According to Liu’s spokesman, Liu and his campaign have worked overtime to finish petitioning and meet the deadline.
Avella narrowly beat back Liu in the 2014 Democratic primary with a 4.4 percent victory margin, or 568 votes, despite the IDC target on his back and the win represented Avella’s independence from the mainline party since Liu was backed by the Queens Democratic Party.
But the loss to Avella also represented another defeat in a succession of setbacks for Liu, who had just come out of the 2013 mayoral election in fourth place while he was still comptroller.
On Sunday City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) ignored a peace agreement between mainline Democrats and former members of the IDC and offered his support to Liu after earlier endorsing Jessica Ramos, who is the primary opponent of Peralta.
“Excited to join the incredible grassroots support for @LiuNewYork and #noIDCNY!#TrueBlueLiu,” Johnson tweeted.
The conditions of the peace agreement worked out with Gov. Andrew Cuomo between the warring Democrats were that if IDC officials rejoined the ranks to help take back the majority in the state Senate, they would not face primary challenges.
Johnson’s decision to back IDC opponents, prior to Liu’s impromptu challenge, illustrates a new political landscape in New York state in which Crowley’s influence has waned overnight.
As city comptroller from 2010 to 2013, Liu claims to have saved taxpayers $5 billion and increased the city’s pension asset portfolio to $150 billion.
He also issued various priorities for the public including affordable housing, education beyond high school, retirement security and pension benefits protection.
As comptroller he created Check
Prior to his comptroller position, Liu was a member of the City Council for eight years, representing Flushing and becoming the first Asian-American to be elected to the body. He was chairman of the Council’s Transportation Committee, where he held the MTA executives’ feet to the fire over poor service and fare hikes.
As a councilman, he was able to secure millions of dollars in funding for schools, libraries, youth programs and senior citizen centers.
Part of his weak showing in the 2014 Democratic mayoral primary stemmed from a campaign scandal dating back to 2009, when his ex-campaign treasurer Jia Hou and fund-raiser Xing Wu Pan were convicted of using straw donors, or people who illegally use another person’s money to make political contributions in their own name. Liu was investigated but never charged.
Liu, now a Flushing resident, was born in Taiwan and moved to New York when he was 5 years old. He graduated from Bronx High School before attending Binghamton University, where he earned a degree in Mathematical Physics. He currently teaches Masters programs in municipal finance and public policy at Columbia University.
Reach Steven Goodstein by e-mail at sgood