`Embattled’ NYC Comptroller Liu Embraces the Adjective

Photograph by Jonathan Fickies/Bloomberg

John Liu, New York City comptroller, in New York.


Today marks the 46th birthday for John Liu, New York City’s comptroller and the first Asian elected to a citywide office. As part of local political tradition, Liu — a Democrat who has made no secret of his interest in running for mayor this year — will celebrate tonight with a Chinatown fundraiser. He expects about 1,000 people who have paid about $100 each, said his political guru, Bill Lynch.

It’s also no secret that two of Liu’s top fundraisers, including his campaign treasurer, were indicted last year. Federal prosecutors charged the pair with election fraud, saying they divided a $16,000 cash contribution made by an undercover agent into several smaller ones from phony donors to take advantage of city laws that provide matching public campaign funds.

They have pleaded not guilty and Liu has denied any wrongdoing. The trial begins next month.

In an out-of-the-ordinary gesture, Liu opened his fundraiser to the media, and to make it doubly unusual, his invitation reads, “Embattled Comptroller John Liu would like to invite you as a guest to his birthday fundraiser tonight.”

Why would Liu describe himself that way?

The story dates back to June, when U.S. Representative Charles Rangel of New York — then locked in a tough primary election battle in a newly drawn congressional district — celebrated his 82nd birthday with a party fundraiser at a midtown Manhattan hotel attended by many of the Empire State’s political elite.

Former Governor David Paterson, the state’s first black chief executive who’s also blind and known for his sense of humor, emceed the event and
introduced each luminary to come forward with praise for the birthday honoree.

When it came time for Liu to speak, Paterson had this to say: “Our next speaker, well, I didn’t know he’d changed his name but I learned about it in the newspapers because every time I read about him I saw he is now called `Embattled John Liu.'”

The crack was met with scattered laughter, mixed with pockets of silence throughout the room. The comptroller didn’t know what to make of Paterson’s introduction, and said as much.

The off-the-cuff remark, though, now has become part of the Liu campaign, a way to tease the press about what he characterizes as a rush to judgment. What didn’t seem so funny months ago has become a source of laughs for Liu — and part of his political make-over effort.

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