NEW YORK-History was made here yesterday as Queens city councilman John Liu won the Democratic primary runoff election for city Comptroller, putting him in line to become the first ever Asian elected to citywide position. Liu rode to victory on a tide of support from labor, the African American, Asian and Latino communities, religious organizations and community groups.
The comptroller's race was essentially a contest between the corporate interests, especially Wall Street and big developers, and the Democratic Party machine; and a broad, insurgent coalition of labor, racially and nationally oppressed communities and the immigrant community-the city's progressive forces.
Much of Liu's campaign focused on issues of importance to working New Yorkers: problems of spiraling costs and declining service on the MTA, developers run wild, the rising cost of living.
Liu received 38 percent of the vote on September 15, in a four-way race. Under city law, if no one secures 40 percent of the vote in a citywide election, a runoff is set. Yesterday's runoff pitted Liu against Brooklyn city council member David Yassky, considered to be a favorite of developers and big business. Liu beat Yassky 56 to 44 percent.
As candidate for comptroller on both the Democratic and Working Family Party lines, Liu is virtually assured a victory in the November general election.
"We won this campaign in the streets!" Liu told a cheering crowd at his campaign's victory party, held at the offices of the United Federation of Teachers.
Indeed, Liu was able to win, even though a campaign was waged against him by the daily newspapers and the party machine. His victory was due to the high degree of organization of labor and its allies, which put boots on the ground and mailers in the mail. Alongside all this was an army of volunteers.
Yassky's endorsements included, among others, Sen. Charles Schumer, D, all of the city's daily newspapers, Ed Koch, the Manhattan Democratic county committee, the (allegedly) notoriously corrupt Brooklyn Democratic county committee and its boss, Vito Lopez.
But "John Liu rode a rainbow coalition to win the runoff," Working Families Party Executive Director Dan Cantor wrote.
In stark contrast, Liu's endorsements included all of the city's most powerful labor unions-UFT, Transport Workers Union Local 100, 1199SEIU, Local 32 BJ, AFSCME District Council 37-and just about all of the smaller ones. (Yassky's labor endorsements, in entirety, were the musician's union, three police unions, and the Freelancer's Union, which, despite its name is not in fact a union at all.)
In addition to labor, Liu received the endorsements of the Queens, Bronx and Staten Island Democratic county committees, dozens of regular, independent and reform Democratic clubs-including a large number in Brooklyn and Manhattan-virtually all of the city's African American, Latino and Asian elected officials, activists for the rights of tenants and the homeless, a wide swath of the GLBT community and the immigrant community, including its press.
So enthusiastic was The Irish Echo newspaper that it called John Liu "the most Irish element" in the race. Surprisingly, Liu also received the endorsement of the usually conservative Novoe Russkoe Slovo (New Russian Word), the largest Russian-language newspaper in the city.
At the end or his acceptance speech, Liu added, "I want to give a shout out to a community that is fast rising, the Russian community. Cpecibo! ["Thank you" in Russian]"
For many in the immigrant community, Liu embodies the American dream: he was born in China's Taiwan province and came here as a child, years during which he did sweatshop-like work to help his mother. He went on to become highly successful, and, just over eight years ago, was the first ever Asian-American to win elected office in the city.
A section of liberal white elected officials including current Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer also backed Liu.
According to many analysts, Liu's campaign represents a continuation and strengthening of the labor-led coalition that first showed itself in a highly organized way during the Obama campaign. Further, some say, the election will help to strengthen this coalition and may well help its candidate for mayor, current comptroller Bill Thompson, to achieve a victory over Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the November general elections.