The former city comptroller and Flushing councilman made his bid official last Friday in Oakland Gardens. Surrounded by supporters, Liu announced that grassroots groups collected 3,000 petition signatures in just one week, qualifying him for the September 13th primary.
“I am full throttle,” he said. “I am running.”
Liu said he initially thought he would have an “easy summer.” Though he met with activist groups for nearly a year, Liu said he fully supported another candidate who threw his hat in the ring, former Assemblyman John Duane.
But Duane decided not to continue his short-lived campaign. When June came, Liu was asked to sign petitions for Tony Avella, who was then the only person running.
“Honestly, I was dismayed that we would not have a Democrat running for State Senate in this district,” he said. “I felt disappointed and actually angry that no one would challenge Avella. I think he needs to be challenged.”
A coalition of organizations opposed to the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), of which Avella was a member, then put out a call for volunteers to collect signatures on July 6. In one week’s time, they gathered enough to make Liu’s run official.
“Nobody thought this was possible,” said Susan Kang, a member of the group No IDC NY. “We launched credible challengers to IDC incumbents in every district, and we’re going to win.”
Liu said Albany plays an important role in pushing back on harmful policies coming from Washington. From immigrant protections to women’s equality and educational equity, he said the Assembly has passed bills addressing many of those issues.
But those pieces of legislation have been repeatedly blocked in the State Senate, which is run by Republicans.
“How did they get control? Because of these turncoat Democrats who gave the control to the Republicans,” Liu said. “We have to hold these senators accountable.”
The former mayoral hopeful challenged Avella in 2014. He lost by 894 votes, but garnered roughly 47 percent of the vote.
Four years later, Liu said the circumstances in the country have changed.
“It’s a vastly different world that we live in today, between 2014 and 2018,” he said. “We have seen a lot of destruction and destructive policies come from Washington, policies we can fight against by enacting strong New York state laws.”
Part of that calculus is Congressman Joseph Crowley’s defeat to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the congressional primary. Liu said he previously met Ocasio-Cortez at a town hall, and was “very impressed” by her.
“Alexandria the Great is a pretty inspirational person,” he said. “I think this movement has been going strong long before she even began her campaign.”
Liu has already picked up several endorsements, including from Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who pledged to campaign for the candidate in the coming weeks.
“No one works harder in the city of New York than John Liu,” he said on Friday. “No one campaigns harder than John Liu.”
Johnson has spoken out against the IDC, and has endorsed four candidates challenging former IDC senators, including Jessica Ramos in Queens and Zellnor Myrie in Brooklyn. He blasted the IDC as “fake Democrats” who have blocked progressive legislation.
“We need Democrats who are going to be part of a progressive majority in the State Senate, who will look out for the city of New York,” Johnson said, “who are not going to take crumbs and pretend like they’re having a picnic for their neighborhoods.”
Councilman Rory Lancman, who lives in the 11th Senate District, added that he’s “embarrassed” that Avella empowered Republicans to control Albany’s upper chamber.
“I don’t have to worry about what John’s going to do when it comes to issues of protecting our people and fighting for our values,” he said. “As a citizen, a resident of this senatorial district, that is deeply meaningful for me.”
With only eight weeks left until the Democratic primary, Liu said he had not yet formed a campaign team or started fundraising as of last Friday. But he will ramp up his campaign activities moving forward.
“I’m going to be doing my best to win this election,” he said.