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  • Saturday, June 02, 2012

    NYC Comptroller John Liu

    I want to present a somewhat biased, but carefully thought out, view of Comptroller John Liu and the accusations against him. I know John Liu personally, though not well. He and my son get along great. He is a brilliant mind and he is one of the few politicians I know who genuinely listens to people and learns from people he talks to. During his City Council years he consistently ranked highest amongst his peers on Human Rights issues. He is solidly pro-union and has stood up to developers one behalf of communities more than most of the mayoral candidates. He is smart, progressive, energetic, and not afraid of taking difficult positions. I like him and I think he would make an excellent mayor. One of our best.

    He is being accused of violating campaign finance laws. As a reformer I very much support a full investigation into these accusations. I do not intend to be an apologist if the accusations prove to have merit.

    But I also look at these accusations in the context of what I know and have experienced about John Liu and also in the context of NYC politics in general. First off, I look at the accusations against John Liu in the context of the scandals that Christine Quinn and Bill de Blasio have been mired in. Both have, shall we say, very creatively shuffled money and have gotten huge quantities of developer money, clearly in exchange for the very pro-development, largely anti-community stands they take. In the context of NYC politics, what John Liu is accused of is minor compared with the slime surrounding Bill de Blasio and Christine Quinn. In my mind if Liu is taken down by these accusations it is unfair if de Blasio and Quinn aren't put through just as much scrutiny and are held equally accountable for their scandals. So far that has not been the case. The media seems to be far easier on Quinn and de Blasio than they are on Liu.

    However, to me that is a weak argument. I have never believed that "well everyone does it" is an adequate excuse. If John Liu seems guilty of these accusations, even though I believe Quinn and de Blasio are far, far more corrupt, I would probably switch my support to Scott Stringer of no one better comes up. But I also have, on a very gut level, a sense that John Liu is largely innocent of the accusations made against him. Maybe his brilliance and his effectiveness as Comptroller are influencing my opinion, but I and people I know have worked side by side with his campaign and observed his campaign in action, and I want to emphasize that of ALL the campaigns we have worked with, John Liu's was by far the most careful and most transparent about money.

    I have donated to many campaigns and worked with many campaigns. John Liu's is the only one that seemed to check each signature, scrutinize every donation, and send back money if there was ANY question about the donation. I have personally seen this and I know others who had the exact same experience. We experienced this during is run for Comptroller and we have experienced it again during his run for mayor. People commented on his campaign's care and transparency LONG before the accusations started. I have never seen a campaign that was so careful about donations. I also found it telling that John Liu avoided the WFP scandal where WFP violated campaign finance laws and many candidates (including Bill de Blasio) had to scramble to correct the WFP-generated violations in order to avoid scandal. John Liu did not participate in the shady dealings of WFP. Now WFP denies wrongdoing, but the truth is the only reason no one was indicted was the judge allowed them to correct the violations to avoid indictment. But those violations were real, were massive, and were widespread. And WFP and the accused candidates never owned up to them but rather hid behind denial and excuses. John Liu did not participate in those violations despite being endorsed by WFP. I always wondered if this was good sense and care regarding campaign finance laws on his part.

    I have also found his campaign and John Liu himself very open and transparent about these accusations. Most politicians I talk to who face a scandal avoid talking about it and get angry and evasive when scandals are brought up. John Liu and his campaign have discussed it with me in a very open way unlike any other politician I have known. Not making excuses and not trying trying to deflect the discussion. I once made the statement that I thought if Bill de Blasio had done the same thing the press would have given him a pass...the people on his campaign I was talking to didn't even take that easy way out. They said they didn't agree with me and have always welcomed a fair investigation. Even when I handed them an easy excuse (and I still think I am right...de Blasio and Quinn get a pass from the media for their scandals when Liu does not) they refused to take it.

    This personal experience and the experiences of many I know who are very sensitive to any whiff of corruption do not fit with the accusations being made. This, more than anything, is the reason why I have a gut level feeling that the accusations against John Liu are false or exaggerated, are politically motivated, and standards are being applied unfairly given the very dubious and far less transparent campaigns of Christine Quinn and Bill de Blasio.

    I do think Oliver Pan may have violated campaign finance laws, though I have never worked with him as far as I am aware and can only say that the accusations seem plausible to me in a way that the accusations against John Liu do not. I feel like people like Oliver Pan skirt gray areas of finance laws and should never have become a common part of political fundraising. But they HAVE become a common part of political fundraising. We need better campaign finance laws. But that in itself is not John Liu's fault. Quinn and de Blasio use bundlers as well and I am willing to bet those bundlers use similar practices as Oliver Pan. Quinn's campaign has CERTAINLY had the exact same kind of scandal (bunlder Norman Hsu) but funny how THAT has not generated the same media attention as Liu's association with Oliver Pan.

    Bottom line is, I would welcome careful investigations into the campaign finances of Christine Quinn, Bill de Blasio, AND John Liu. Fair and unbiased investigations into any questionable practices are good things. But based on my experience and my conversations with John Liu and with his campaign, I have found them to be among the most honest and transparent campaigns I have found in politics. If HIS campaign is brought down by scandal despite what seems to be unusual care and transparency, then God help us all because I still think John Liu is at the more honest end of NYC politics. Maybe that is even more damning with faint praise than I realized, but I still think it is true.

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