John Liu Leans Left

City Comptroller John Liu, flanked by Queens City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, at a March 28 press conference outside the Manhattan federal court where a trial about police stop and frisk practices was taking place. | GAY CITY NEWS

City Comptroller John Liu, flanked by Queens City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, at a March 28 press conference outside the Manhattan federal court where a trial about police stop and frisk practices was taking place. | GAY CITY NEWS

BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | While a number of the candidates for the Democratic nomination for mayor were invited to a panel discussion on police department stop and frisk practices hosted by the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, a gay political club, only John Liu, New York City’s comptroller, showed up.

“You would think you are reading about some Third World dictatorship,” Liu said of stop and frisk reports at the March 19 event. “I believe that if you want to make New York City safer, you've got to stop stop and frisk.”

He blamed the police department's “quota system” for forcing police to engage in the practice to achieve results demanded by senior officers.

“The officers don't want to do it either, but they have to do it because of the numbers,” he said.

Comptroller, struggling to boost poll standing, plays to progressive primary voters, especially on NYPD

While the other candidates have said they want to fix stop and frisk, Liu is alone in saying he wants to abolish it entirely. And he is playing to the most progressive voters with this and other positions.

Unlike his peers, he generally doesn’t soften his comments with praise for police. To the contrary, if he wins City Hall, he will change the leadership in the police department and not just the commissioner.

“It's also about the ranks of the top chiefs in the department,” he said. “Pretty much they all have to go, too.”

Liu also appeared at a press conference outside the Manhattan federal courts where a civil trial seeking to halt stop and frisk was being held. Out gay City Councilmen Jimmy Van Bramer and Daniel Dromm, who represent parts of Queens, also attended. The March 28 event was organized by some of the most left-leaning groups in the queer community.

“It’s undemocratic, it’s un-American, and it has to go,” Liu said of stop and frisk. “It doesn’t need to be examined, it doesn’t need to be adjusted, it needs to go.”

Liu’s gambit was rewarded the week of May 6 when five Manhattan Democratic political clubs, including four that are viewed as progressive, endorsed him. Among the four was the Village Independent Democrats (VID), a club that was founded in 1957 and was part of the political reform movement that eventually put Ed Koch in the mayor’s office.

VID is headquartered in City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s district and the Liu endorsement was perceived as a blow to her candidacy. Political clubs have a lesser role in city politics than they once did, but they can supply volunteers to campaigns and their endorsements can be meaningful to some voters.

“I was surprised that she lost all of them,” said Ken Sherrill, a professor of political science at Hunter College. “It’s pretty shocking that she lost all of them… It may be that her campaign is taking a different strategy.”

In the past week, Liu’s inroads into Quinn’s turf expanded, when the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens, a group long associated with Dromm, endorsed him. Unlike Van Bramer and out lesbian Councilwoman Rosie Mendez of Manhattan, Dromm has not endorsed Quinn in this year’s race. The speaker captured endorsements from the city’s other leading LGBT Democratic clubs, except for Jim Owles, which backed former Comptroller Bill Thompson, the 2009 mayoral nominee.

In opinion polls, Liu has been running last or near last, with Quinn continuing as a frontrunner — though recent polls put her no better than even with former Congressman Anthony Weiner, a late entry into the race. In published reports, Liu has disputed the accuracy of the polls.

Liu’s tack on stop and frisk is not without risk. A March Quinnipiac University poll found high support among most New Yorkers for the police department and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Overall, 46 percent of voters approved of stop and frisk and 49 percent disapproved. Fifty-nine percent of white voters approved of the practice while 68 percent of African-American voters disapproved, as did 52 percent of Latino voters.

Liu’s positions may play well with voters in the September 10 in the Democratic primary, but they could hurt him in November’s general election if Republicans nominate a skilled candidate.

“Given likely voters in a New York City Democratic primary, virtually every one is to the left,” Sherrill said. “It’s a question of how far to the left he is willing to reach… All kinds of things that you said in the course of the campaign are recorded. It’s much harder now to escape things that you said in the primary.”

Quinn is being far more careful, as are the other contenders for the Democratic nomination.

“She is not taking positions now that will get her in trouble in the general election,” Sherrill said. “If she said the things that John Liu said, the Republican would be beating her over the head with them.”