LONG ISLAND CITY – With the election just one week away, New York State Senator Michael Gianaris, Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, and State Senate candidate for District 11 John Liu visited the offices of The National Herald on October 29. The Democrats spoke about the issues in this vital election year, all of them hoping for a large voter turnout, and urging everyone to make their voices heard on November 6.
John Liu, the former New York City Comptroller (2010-2013) and Councilmember (2002-2009), representing District 20 in northeast Queens, was the first Asian American to win legislative office in New York and the first to win citywide office. He was also a candidate in the 2013 New York City mayoral election.
The Democratic nominee for northeast Queens’ District 11, Liu also tried for the seat in 2014, losing to incumbent Tony Avella in the primary election; in the 2018 primary rematch, however, he defeated Avella who had angered many by joining the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group of Democratic state senators who allied themselves with Senate Republicans. Avella left the IDC, but his membership had already cost him the support of many Democrats and led to the successful challenge by Liu in the Democratic primary. Avella will still appear on the ballot in the general election as the third-party Independence Party of New York and Reform Party of New York State candidate.
Liu currently teaches municipal finance and policy at Baruch College and Columbia University.
When asked about the campaign so far, Liu told TNH, “we had a hard-fought primary and I was honored that the Democrats of Senate District 11 nominated me to be their candidate over the incumbent and now we are exactly a week away from the election and I feel very good given that the party enrollment in the district is overwhelmingly Democratic and I have no doubt that there is a huge blue wave that is sweeping across New York State and America, but there’s too much at stake, I’m not leaving anything to chance, I’m campaigning very, very hard.
“I have wonderful, wonderful supporters like Assemblymember Simotas and Senator Gianaris and not only Aravella, but her whole family, which is a pretty significant presence in the district.
“The Greek community is huge, we’ve got two very large churches, which for whatever inconceivable notion, the incumbent never supported and often opposed and antagonized, even as the church in Whitestone was trying to build a school. I think with a week to go we’re in a pretty solid position, but like I said, I’m not taking anything for granted.
“There are a whole host of issues, plenty of quality of life issues which we have a community board, council members, and other representatives to work on and I will certainly be there to help with the quality of life issues, but we have significant state-wide issues that have not been met, school funding, for example, that the assembly passes every year, that the Democratic Conference of the State Senate which Mike helps lead passes every year but then the Senate majority, controlled by the Republicans, blocks, even the simple issue of extending the authorization of speed cameras in front of school zones that was blocked, that’s something that I expect will come up very quickly in January. Issues of immigrant dignity, keeping families together, that’s also paramount and at the top of the agenda.
About Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to abolish to Specialized High School Test, Liu told TNH, “That’s a big issue, it will definitely be an issue when we get to Albany, it’s an issue that de Blasio has utterly failed at. I don’t support what he’s doing. He made it a zero sum game, meaning whatever gain one group might have would be at the sheer expense of another group and that group in particular happens to be Asian Americans. This mayoral administration never reached out and spoke to anyone in the Asian American community and so I am going to work with the other senators and our colleagues in the state assembly to come up with a plan that makes sense going forward, but de Blasio’s plan, as far as I’m concerned, is dead on arrival.
“I happen to have a lot of experience with these schools, I’m a graduate (Bronx Science), my brother Rob’s a graduate (Bronx Science), my wife Jenny (Brooklyn Tech) and son Joe (Stuyvesant). I want to make sure that many generations of kids also have the same kinds of opportunities.”
When asked about the biggest challenge going forward, perhaps backlash for his association with Mayor de Blasio, Liu said, “The Republican candidate [Vickie Paladino] puts out a lot of pictures of me and de Blasio next to each other. I am not a fan of this mayor, but I’m a Democrat and so the Republicans essentially are saying that all Democrats are the same which we are not. I’m proud to be a progressive Democrat but I would distinguish myself from de Blasio by calling myself a thoughtful Democrat as opposed to a non-thinking Democrat.”
“I’m running against Paladino, not de Blasio, she’s running against de Blasio,” Liu added.
Of the changes in the community, he said, “The community continues to change, it’s changing in demographics, along age lines, there are more younger people staying in the district as well as moving into the district, we’re starting to feel the wave coming in from Astoria and Long Island City, and so younger people are coming, the population of New York City is increasing with many more young people, and the area is becoming more ethnically diversified with Asian Americans and Greeks moving into the area, hence the growth of churches and school programs.”
About the issues of concern to the Greek community specifically, Senator Gianaris noted that “we are hoping to elect two more Greek-Americans to the state senate next week as well, Andrew Gounardes and James Skoufis, so we’ll have a group of people that understands these issues and John has always been a friend of the community, he’s a friend of mine, so he’s very much aware when we advocate for Cyprus being reunified or Macedonia to make sure the name is not co-opted.”
Liu added that he’s proud to have worked on Gianaris’ first campaign 18 years ago and “I was proud to trek down to southern Brooklyn to endorse Andrew Gounardes’ campaign.”
Of young people getting involved in the campaign, Liu said, “We have many young people, millennials, and there are actually people younger than millennials now, who are volunteering and getting involved, responding, the only thing is we can’t phone them, we have to text them. They respond to text messages, they do not answer phones. My son was actually on the phone once and I told him to hang up the phone and he asked me where.”
Of the voter turnout, Liu said, “We had almost twice the turnout of four years ago, the last time I ran and there were also gubernatorial election, the general election turnout should be double as well. I always like to see a big turnout because that reassures me that our democracy actually does work. When people are generally content, the turnout’s going to be low, but when they are really upset, the turnout’s going to be high. I think it’s going to be very high this year, a lot of it due to this blue wave of Democratic voter discontent about what’s happening in this country and extended to what’s happening in this state which is exactly what you saw when the IDC was wiped out.”
Gianaris said, “The anger in the primary [against Avella] is really about not supporting people who show you one face and then do something else, and what you see with John is what you get.”
Simotas pointed out the relationship Liu has with the Congressional leaders in the district, Rep. Grace Meng and Rep. Tom Suozzi, noting that “we as legislators really can’t be effective unless we all work together. In Astoria, we’ve been very lucky from the municipal level all the way up to the federal level, we all work as a team… John has those same relationships which don’t exist right now with respect to the state senate in his district because Tony Avella shuns everybody, that’s why it’s important that we make sure John goes up to Albany next year.”
Liu also noted the importance of working with others, adding that it’s not about personal relationships or the party, “it’s about everybody trying to do the right thing for the community.”
Election Day is November 6.