By Naeisha Rose
John Liu, the first Asian-American elected to a citywide office as comptroller in 2009, is challenging state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) in the Sept. 13 primary on the grounds that he gave control of the state Senate to the Republicans after leaving the mainstream Democratic Party for the renegade IDC.
This will be Liu’s second run against Avella, who joined the Independent Democratic Conference from 2014 to 2018 and represents the 11th Senate District covering Bayside, College Point, Auburndale, Beechhurst, Whitestone, Bay Terrace and parts of Flushing, Douglaston, Little Neck and Glen Oaks.
Liu, who served as a city councilman from 2002-2013 and ran for mayor in 2013, narrowly lost a 2014 Senate primary for the seat to Avella. His mayoral campaign was clouded by campaign finance issues that resulted in prison terms for two aides.
Liu’s primary focus also is on schools in the two highest performing school districts in the city and quality-of-life issues, but giving the Democrats a majority in the Senate over the Republicans is a top priority. He said the GOP leadership with the help of the IDC has prevented both common sense and progressive legislation from being voted on over the past few years.
“These IDC senators directly handed control to [state Sen. John Flanagan (R-Smithtown)],” said Liu about the Senate majority leader. “The worst thing about the IDC members, and Avella especially, is that they say they support [progressive] issues and all this legislation. But by allowing Flanagan to call the votes and set the agenda, they ensure that these issues will never see the light of day.”
The IDC was a group of eight Democratic senators that caucused separately from other Democratic members, which resulted in Republican senators wielding control over the state Senate. The group dissolved April 16 after reaching an agreement with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
One of the pieces of legislation that did not get through the Senate was the School Zone Speed Camera Bill, which was introduced by state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) and amended by Avella to include “Speed Camera Ahead” warning signs within 300 feet from the cameras.
“Case in point, Avella had the audacity to call a news conference to call upon the Republican leadership to allow a vote on speed camera legislation,” said Liu. “You made it possible for Republicans to have that leadership in the first place. You killed your own bill, knowingly!”
If he manages to unseat Avella this time around, and beat GOP challengers Vickie Palladino and Simon Minching in the general election Nov. 6, Liu wants to fight for education equity, the Reproductive Health Act, and more.
“We are still missing billions of dollars in a lawsuit that we won a decade ago,” said Liu. “The Campaign for Fiscal Equity was supposed to provide $1 billion for public schools and to this day it still hasn’t been released.”
The Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which fights to get quality education for urban schools, was created after a lawsuit in 1993, filed by former City Councilman Robert Jackson (D-NY), brought to light that New York State schools were failing children.
In 2007, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer agreed to increase statewide funding for public schools to $5.5 billion, and payments were made up until 2009, but the Great Recession of 2008 led to the funds being frozen, according to the Alliance for Quality Education, another organization fighting for public schools. It is estimated that nearly $3 billion is left to be allocated.
“The Reproductive Health Act is a priority,” said Liu. “A precedent that was set decades ago, Roe v. Wade, is in peril.”
Liu wants to codify Roe v. Wade, which would protect a women’s right to choose in New York regardless of what happens on the federal level.
He also wants to fight to keep the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test.
Earlier this year the mayor proposed dropping the SHSAT as the sole criteria for admission to the eight elite specialized high schools in the city. The proposal came about after he learned that only 10 percent of black and Latino students make up the student body, which is heavily Asian.
“It’s a ridiculous proposal,” said Liu, a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science.
Liu would have preferred if the mayor had met with different communities in tackling the diversity issue.
“Take the time to consult and engage with people and then compromise from there,” said Liu.
“I’m raising my family here,” said Liu. “I have a huge stake in what happens in this community.”
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose