By Mark Hallum
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) slammed John Liu, his Democratic primary opponent, for alleged campaign violations by calling on the state Board of Elections and attorney general’s office to investigate his contributions in the current race.
Avella charged that Liu’s last-minute challenge against him had received aid from No IDC NY amounting to about $11,693, which was recently disclosed by the organization mobilized against former members of the rogue Independent Democratic Conference. The amount exceeds the $7,000 state limit on money or goods and services contributions, according to Avella.
“The public has a right to know what scandal-ridden John Liu has spent this reporting period and whether he has made any other campaign expenditures. We ask the Board of Elections and Attorney General’s Office to immediately investigate for any improprieties given the sordid history of John Liu’s campaigns failing to follow the law,” Jeff Frediani, a spokesman for Avella, said.
Avella and state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) were among the eight legislators who left the folds of the mainstream Democractic Party to work with Republicans across the aisle in the Senate to pass progressive legislation.
Liu struck back at Avella by alleging he had taken over $103,000 from an IDC slush fund which the breakaway Democrats were required to repay by the state Board of Elections following a state Supreme Court ruling.
“It is baffling that Trump Democrat Tony Avella is calling for an investigation of anyone when he himself took illegal contributions from the Senate Independence Campaign Committee, a slush fund for the Independent Democratic Conference recently ruled in violation of the Election Law by Supreme Court, Albany County. Since 2016, Avella accepted payments from the IDC’s slush fund totalling $103,000, far in excess of candidate contribution limits,” Liu’s campaign response said. “John Liu’s former campaign committees are in the process of being made inactive. The most recent filing for the John Liu Senate Committee account is now up to date.”
In April, Gov. Andrew Cuomo helped broker a peace agreement with IDC members by issuing an ultimatum: Dissolve the IDC and help the Democratic Party regain the majority in the Senate or face primary challenges.
The IDC complied with the ultimatum after challengers came forward but following the defeat of the Queens Democratic Party chairman, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the other contenders began picking up steam and mainstream support.
Former IDC members now have primaries despite the peace agreement between the breakaway group and mainline Dems.
Peralta is facing a challenge from Jackson Heights activist Jessica Ramos. Former IDC members, including Liu and Ramos, have been endorsed by City Council Speaker Cory Johnson (D-Manhattan).
Avella has also raised the issue of Liu’s scarred campaign 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. Both served jail time. While Liu was targeted in this investigation, he was never charged.
Liu’s decision to oppose 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 required to get on the ballot July 12.
Unless the signatures are successfully challenged before the Board of Elections, Liu will be on the ballot for the Sept. 13 state Democratic primary, but Avella has not announced an effort to challenge the validity of the petitions.
This is the second time Liu will be running against Avella. In 2014, he came short of a victory over Avella, first elected in 2009, by a little more 500 votes.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall