Brushing off his legal troubles as the price for taking on powerful interests, New York City Comptroller, John Liu officially began his campaign for mayor of the city on Sunday with a vow to represent the “100 percent,” not “the 1 percent.”
In a 10-minute speech at New York City Hall, Taiwan-born Liu cited a Chinese tale to assail New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg “and his enablers” for issuing an “imperial edict” skewed against all but the wealthiest of New Yorkers.
“A struggling town begs the emperor to send relief and the emperor replies: ‘Just tighten your belts,’” he told a crowd of several hundred. “The town replies: ‘Send belts.’”
Alluding to the looming federal trial of his associates over his campaign fundraising, Liu, a Democrat, said: “When you go after powerful people and rich corporations, they’re going to come after you. They have certainly made my life challenging, but let me be clear: We are not backing down.”
Liu’s speech was part of a daylong, five-borough, 15-event sprint that seemed an apt political corollary to the New York City Half Marathon on Sunday.
The frenetic day was typical for Liu, but his announcement at City Hall and its barbed populist pitch — aimed at Bloomberg — suggested that he wanted to send clear notice: Yes, he has the support and yes, he has the message to work there full-time in January next year.
“There is no denying that the guy has a fervent band of supporters — he brings a rock star dynamic to the race, unlike almost anyone in the field,” Democratic consultant Neal Kwatra said. “The challenge for him will be getting over the viability hump. If he can’t make the sale to key institutional forces that he has a road map to a runoff, then he becomes more of a spoiler than a legitimate contender.”
Liu joins other major Democrats who have officially entered the race. A week earlier, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has been leading in early polls, announced her candidacy through Twitter and a video. A month ago, public advocate Bill de Blasio made his announcement outside his row house in Brooklyn, while William Thompson Jr, who lost to Bloomberg in 2009, said in 2010 that he would run.
Liu’s kickoff was far more raucous and chaotic, with the City Hall announcement only a microcosm. There were so many people trying to squeeze onto the City Hall steps that Liu’s aides had to ask supporters to move because the comptroller, his wife and their young son would be unable to pass. His aides had a hard time figuring out the right chant to herald his arrival, before settling on: “One for all. John Liu.”
Liu delivered his remarks twice — once for the crowd at City Hall and then for several dozen more at City Hall Park who could not get closer. Finally, he held an unscheduled news conference before answering more questions on his way to his next event with reporters from Mexican and Chinese stations.
Virtually every question was about the federal investigation into his fundraising. On April 15, two of Liu’s associates, including his former treasurer, are to stand trial on fraud charges. While Liu, 46, has not been accused of wrongdoing, court documents have left little doubt that prosecutors have been questioning his conduct.
On Sunday, Liu maintained his defiant posture, saying: “People have said there’s a witch hunt; the problem is, there’s no witch.”