It’s not a good time to be a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, the breakaway group of five Democratic state senators who’ve handed control of New York’s Senate to Republicans for their own personal gain—even though Democrats won a majority of seats in the last election. The Daily News now reports that former New York City Comptroller John Liu, who apparently had been considering the race, will challenge Queens Sen. Tony Avella in September’s Democratic primary.
Assuming Liu goes through with it, that would make Avella the second IDC member to face a serious fight for re-election this fall. The other is state Sen. Jeff Klein, the cabal’s ringleader, who’s already dealing with a challenge from former New York City Councilman Ollie Koppell, whom over 2,300 of you have already donated to.
But unlike Klein, who has a ton of money in the bank, Avella is almost penniless—seriously. He has under $3,000 in his campaign coffers. He also has a reputation for being aloof and friendless, and indeed, the News confirms earlier reports that the Queens Democratic Party itself plans to get behind Liu. If Avella was counting on Klein’s moneybags to save him, good luck with that. Klein has to worry about protecting his own neck from Koppell, and the grassroots anger at his personal power-grab that’s thwarted progressive legislative priorities.
Liu, for his part, is an incredibly energetic campaigner and has a reputation as a good fundraiser. And as the first Asian-American ever elected citywide, he also inspires tremendous fervor from his most loyal supporters in the Chinese community. He has strong progressive bona fides, too, and was heavily supported by the Working Families Party when he ran for comptroller in 2009. Liu, in short, wants to take this seat back for mainstream Democrats.
The only potential knock on Liu is that his treasurer and top fundraiser from his unsuccessful mayoral campaign last year were both convicted of campaign finance fraud and sentenced to jail, but Liu himself was never implicated. If anything, that incident may provide motivational fuel for him: As a result of the scandal, he was denied matching funds for his bid for mayor, a move that effectively served as the death penalty for his campaign. But even at the time, it seemed like an extreme punishment, and as one nameless source now tells the News, “A lot of people feel he got a raw deal.”
So watch out, Tony Avella. A popular dynamo with a chip on his shoulder looks like he’s coming for you—and the IDC. And in the meantime, while we wait on Liu’s formal decision, let’s make sure Jeff Klein continues to feel the heat.