What Comes After The John Liu Legacy?
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
John Liu, who I have known for more than a decade, has trail-blazed the New York City political landscape, becoming the first Asian-American to achieve Citywide elective office by capturing the position of Comptroller in 2009 after a hotly contested four-way Democratic Primary. John has inspired a generation of Asian Americans to participate in the system.
A driven achiever with political instincts and appetite, at times it appeared like there was no stopping John Liu. Wikipedia reports that: “At the age of five, he moved with his family to the United States from Taiwan. Chang F. Liu, his father, was a Master of Business Administration student and bank teller who worked 12 hour days. In honor of John F. Kennedy, Liu’s father changed his sons’ names to John, Robert, and Edward, and his own name to Joseph.”
Ethnic politics in our city is a well-won and respectable heritage and John has played the game with precision and inspiration. He was destined to become synonymous with Asian city politics. He was on the fast track to becoming the next Mayor.
And then it all began to unravel. Some insiders blame it on a Chinese cultural influence where political fundraising doesn’t adhere to the rules. But whether it is cultural, with his knowledge or not, if a conviction comes from the two indictments to date, or if the Federal investigation lays blame at the doorstep of John himself, it appears that the dream is unraveling quickly – very quickly.
Trib Publisher Mike Schenkler and John Liu at the Trib office, top 2011, bottom 2001.
Photos by Ira Cohen
To me, John is still a friend. He stopped by our Whitestone office last August. His visits have been the subject of this column since 2001. That visit of last summer never made it to a column – apparently the 9th Congressional District Special Election had priority. But John and I have had an hour or so to talk many times over the past decade – usually over bagel and lox – John is a pro at ethnic politics.
But sadly, the John Liu era may be coming to an end. It appears campaign fundraising scandals may be his downfall. His potential frontrunner status in the 2013 Mayoral race seems over. The likelihood of him making that race is rapidly fading. The damage caused John by his apparent inability to keep his campaign finances on the up and up will likely cause further damage. Political insiders are already whispering the names of the next New York City Comptroller – and they are betting the selection will be long before the next scheduled election in 2013.
Should John Liu be forced to or decide to step down this year, as a result of the Comptroller Campaign Fundraising scandal, a non-partisan special election will be held approximately 45 days later, according to the City Charter.
To the best of my recollection, this Charter provision of a Citywide non-partisan (no party designation) election has never been utilized. Pundits can only guess how it will play out.
Some basic assumptions: 1) turn out will matter; 2) money will matter and; 3) name recognition could matter.
While organizational help – including political parties which will not be permitted to designate a candidate or have a line on the ballot – will be important, pulling voters for a special election where only comptroller appears on the ballot will be a challenge. Even the sophisticated union organizations will find turnout anemic at best.
Forty-five days is not enough time to raise and spend money. So look to someone who has “city election eligible” money in the bank.
Name recognition is a challenge citywide. If you have it now, it’ll cost less to acquire.
So, who are the possibilities for this non-existent race?
Consider those who lost to John Liu 3 years ago:
David Yassky, who is now part of the Bloomberg Administration, came the closest to Liu. While he has been an effective Chairman of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, the position is not high profile and does not build or maintain political support.
Melinda Katz — private practice and motherhood has taken Melinda out of politics and the public eye.
David Weprin works his district as Assemblyman and tried to play to a wider audience with his pathetic effort trying to keep Anthony Weiner’s seat in the blue column. That sad campaign effort coupled with a last place finish in the four-way Comptroller race in ’09 should tell David something – we doubt it will. Look for Weprin to try to raise money and get the Queens Dem Organization behind him. Dubious.
There are those who have been banking money in anticipation of their next race – for something other than Comptroller.
Peter Vallone, Jr. has been stashing away the cash and sits with good name recognition Citywide as a law and order guy which can convert to fiscal watchdog. He could jump in rather than wait for the Queens Beep race against a Queens Dem County candidate.
Dan Garodnick with his ambition and fundraising, this may just be a case of right place, right time.
Adolfo Carrion – the former Bronx Beep has returned from Washington to consider a Mayoral run but could be one of the frontrunners in this race.
Jessica Lappin could abandon a Manhattan Borough President shot for an off-year special election.
Dominick Reccia could utilize his Council Finance Chair and be Brooklyn’s favorite son.
John Liu, the Queens Tribune “Person Of The Year” in 2009.
Rory Lancman -- if he can’t find a Congressional seat to run for, what the hey? Lancman seems to be ready to try for anything if it provides an exit from Albany.
Ruben Diaz, Jr. – the Bronx Beep is in an off year and could try to emerge as the citywide Latino leader.
Scott Stringer – it makes the most sense for the Manhattan BP who is an announced candidate for Mayor. He will likely be the best funded Comptroller candidate and the only one who represents a constituency as large as the entire borough of Manahattan and the presumed frontrunner.
Unless Brooklyn Beep Marty Markowitz decides to play and then if he could sell the electorate on the fact he’s serious, he could be the front runner.
No, John Liu is not dead.
No, John Liu has not been indicted.
No, John Liu has not announced a resignation.
As a matter of fact, we’d love to have the opportunity to interview and consider Mayoral Candidate John Liu.
But, we’re not betting on it.