John Liu Injects Humor to Embattled Campaign

(Photo by Melanie Bencosme/Voices of NY)

John Liu (left) tackled a wide range of issues, from rent prices to taxes to the damaging investigation into his campaign’s fundraising. Moderator Garry Pierre-Pierre, the director of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media, is on the right. (Photo by Melanie Bencosme/Voices of NY)

“I sit before you as the most thoroughly investigated candidate in New York City,” said John Liu at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism Thursday. Part tongue-in-cheek, partly serious and always the entertainer, Liu sat with reporters and editors as part of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media’s Q&A series with mayoral hopefuls.

The Democrat first tackled losing the Untied Federation of Teachers endorsement to Bill Thompson, one of six rivals in the September primary.

“I’m very disappointed that the UFT didn’t endorse me,” said Liu in response to a question from a reporter. “I’m disappointed that 1199 didn’t endorse me. But I’m proud that DC 37 and a couple dozen other unions, albeit small unions, have endorsed me. In fact if you look at the totality of all these unions I believe I have the most amount of union support right now.”

When asked why he thought the union chose to go another route, Liu said: “In the case of the UFT, I believe that it was down to myself or Bill Thompson. In the case of 1199, it was down to myself and Bill De Blasio. And in both cases, it didn’t come my way.”

Liu took whatever question was thrown his way and injected the answer with a little bit of humor. Despite the serious of subjects like affordable housing and his straw donor investigation, the current New York City Comptroller managed to smile through it all and make a few people in the room chuckle as well.

“New York City has generally been an unaffordable place for a long time, but in the past decade the city has become significantly more unaffordable,” he said. “This is a problem, combined with the income gap, where the vast majority of New Yorkers have not had significant increases to keep up inflation. It curtails our prospects for a significant economic recovery.”

(Photo by Melanie Bencosme/Voices of NY)

John Liu took questions from the reporters and editors from the community and ethnic media. (Photo by Melanie Bencosme/Voices of NY)

Asked further about affordability, income and raising taxes, Liu advocated increasing taxes gradually based on income-level. He also made the case for a better corporate tax stating that: “Ladies and gentlemen, no one’s going to leave New York City to go to Hartford.”

While he delivers a consistent political message at his appearances, the aura of the fundraising scandal that culminated in May with the conviction of a former campaign treasurer and a fundraiser surrounds him at every turn. Liu joked about how his polling numbers have been “consistent…consistently low,” though he  believes his Asian-American base is not counted by the surveys and with it his poll numbers, which have been hovering around 10 percent, would jump by 12 percent.

Liu became serious when asked if the fundraising probe had hurt his campaign.

“I think the investigation has hurt,” he said, explaining the ins and outs of the case. “I think that obviously I would have preferred not to have this four-year investigation.”

But once again, the seriousness was tied with a touch of humor.

“I must be someone very special, because mob bosses and drug kingpins get wire-tapped for several months at a time,” said Liu. “I get 18 months.”

Liu addressed the controversial surveillance of Muslims by the New York Police Department over six years telling those in attendance that the NYPD’s actions were not indicative of the country he loves.

“I’m the only person (running for mayor) who believes that it’s unconstitutional – I mean, it’s un-American – for the surveillance to take place,” stated Liu. “The idea that the police or any part of government would put people on surveillance or spy on them for no reason other than the fact that they belong to one particular religion…I will never be able to reconcile that with being an American. Not one single lead in six years for this kind of spying. I would never have that if I was in control.”

Liu, who became the first Asian-American elected to citywide office when he was elected comptroller in 2009, said he supported adding two Muslim holidays to the public school calendar and offering halal lunches for Muslim students in the schools, two issues being pushed by the city’s growing Muslim population.

The candidate also said that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy “doesn’t have to be adjusted, it doesn’t have to be cut back, it has to be eliminated.”

Liu didn’t forget to take on current Mayor Michael Bloomberg as well during his Q&A session. He made sure to call out Bloomberg on his push for a third term and the argument that the city would have been in dire straits without him. Liu also attacked how Bloomberg’s handled mayoral control of schools.

“I always felt that yes our schools needed more accountability, that’s why I supported mayoral control,” said Liu. “But it’s gotten so far extreme,  our schools are run as if they are business units. Business divisions of a major corporation, and when the numbers don’t look right, you close subsidiaries, sometimes you merge subsidiaries. You shut down schools or co-locate schools. This is not the way to run a school system.”

Complete Q&A session:


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