Wealth Blog

Rocky road for New York’s first Chinese candidate for mayor

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 April, 2013, 11:24am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 April, 2013, 11:25am

You’ve got to hand it to John Liu, New York most famous Chinese (Taiwanese) immigrant and the city’s current comptroller. You can’t pick up a newspaper without seeing his regular, suave, well-groomed features beaming back at you. He looks the part, but as usual where’s there’s politics in America, there’s money sloshing about. And scandal.  And smiling Liu is no exception. He arrived from Taiwan aged five, grew up in Queens, and now, at 46, is bidding to replace Michael Bloomberg, now in his lame duck third term, as New York’s next mayor. 

He would be the Big Apple's first Asian-American mayor: you are not allowed to call him Chinese in this capital of political correctness.  But first he needs to overcome headlines such as: "NYC Comptroller John Liu's fundraiser arrested on fraud charge" in the New York Post; "Controller John Liu's mayoral candidacy threatened by trial of his campaign's ex-treasurer and an ex-fund-raiser" in the New York Daily News ; and "John Liu aides scandal: Trial starts for associates of NYC mayoral hopeful" in Newsday – well you get the drift. Even the China Daily has picked up on his antics.

And by the sound of things he’s going to be called a lot worse things than Asian-American before the votes are cast in November.


What Did Liu Do? 

So what exactly has he done? It’s politics and US political fund raising is always murky stuff. 

I defer to the New York Post for an explanation of Liu’s road to City Hall. He seems to have fallen foul of campaign laws, having filed for $3.4 million from the city’s matching-funds program. “He has done so even as the feds have charged that his former 2013 treasurer and a top money-man created networks of fake donors to trigger illegal payments from that very program,” the Post says.

The city’s Campaign Finance Board will apparently study the upcoming federal trial to help it decide whether Liu gets his matching funds or not. But its audit of Liu’s 2009 run for comptroller is not yet finished. Which means that Liu might be stymied for getting his mayoral election funds until after the election.

So it boils down to the courts, not the voters, deciding if Liu gets a shot. Somewhat ironically, Liu is an actuary by trade, and was elected comptroller, the city’s chief fiscal officer, in 2009, the first Asian to hold such office. 

The Taiwan native is no political newby, he’s a smart cookie and spent seven years honing his political skills on the city council. A democrat he chucked his hat into the mayoral ring in last month, for the November polls.

But that obstinate cloud of scandal remains. It’s still hard to understand what he’s supposed to have done. The China Daily explanation is that Liu’s former campaign treasurer and a former fundraiser face federal charges of conspiring to break campaign finance laws to enrich his campaign funds. The paper adds their trial, which started on Tuesday, could topple Liu's election hopes. Nevertheless he’s the poster boy for the city’s army of Chinese voters and remains confident, though still a long shot. New York has the largest Chinese population outside Asia.  

"John would not be running a campaign that doesn't have a strong chance of winning," Liu's campaign office told China Daily. But he modestly declined an interview himself. Liu’s campaign team claims to be looking forward to the start of the trials "because the more information that comes out, the better it will be for (his wife) Jenny, his campaign, and the public". Not sure why it’s good for his wife, but no doubt we will find out. So watch this space, I fell sure we have not heard the last of John Liu and his political ambitions.