Up Close With NYC's Mayoral Candidates: John Liu (D)
Growing up as an immigrant in New York City, politics were never in the cards for a young John Liu. His family left Taiwan when he was only five, moving to Queens in search of the American Dream.
He entered the political scene in 2001 when he became the first Asian American elected to citywide office in New York, representing District 20 of Queens on the New York City Council. In 2009, he was elected to the New York City Comptroller’s Office, where he’s produced over three billion dollars in cost savings for the city, often going head-to-head with Mayor Bloomberg, cracking down on wasteful spending and calling for financial transparency from government organizations.
Controversy struck in 2011, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation began looking into his campaign fundraising practices and found discrepancies, including the use of straw donors and undisclosed bundling. Despite three years of investigation and the conviction of his treasurer in 2012, Liu was never found guilty. He’s been working tirelessly on the campaign trail ever since, spending long days hopping from event to event to get his name out to voters. He considers himself a champion of the working poor, and is especially popular in some Asian American and immigrant communities. Liu hit another major roadblock on August 5, when the city’s Campaign Finance Committee denied him over 3.5 million dollars in matching funds for his campaign. He’s not backing down though, and will push ahead to the September primary with every penny he can pick up along the way.
Both a product of the New York City public schools and a parent of a student in the system, Liu places heavy emphasis on the importance of education. He currently views the city’s schools as test prep factories, and wants to see more well-rounded curricula that include arts and physical education with the more traditional subjects. He believes increasing the number of college graduates in the city is key to economic advancement, and wants to put more guidance counselors in the schools and improve digital literacy. Liu supports charter schools, but is against them using district buildings to share space with public schools. He’s spoken out against City Chancellor of Schools Dennis Walcott, and intends to replace him if elected into office.
Safety and Crime Prevention
While other candidates are suggesting ways to reform the NYPD’s controversial Stop and Frisk policy, Liu is outspoken about his plans to abolish the practice altogether if elected into office. Instead, he’d rather the NYPD work with community members to establish focused deterrents in areas the public feels need more protection. He’s against installing an Inspector General, and would prefer to appoint a police commissioner from within.
A supporter of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Liu plans to monitor the Health and Hospitals Corporation to ensure it has the proper resources to serve the city’s vulnerable populations. He slammed Mayor Bloomberg’s recent proposals to cut health care costs, blaming his administration for putting the city in a financial crisis.
Liu’s biggest push for economic development in the city comes with his call to increase the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour. He’s in favor of the state’s plans to raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour statewide, viewing it as a step in the right direction, but still feels it’s not enough to get those living and working in the city out of poverty. He places strong emphasis on education as a means to economic success, and wants to improve New Yorker’s digital literacy in order to help them compete in the increasingly high-tech market.
Liu strongly supports small business, and has proposed ending subsidies for big corporations and creating savings for small businesses instead. He wants to eliminate the City’s General Corporation tax for businesses with annual tax bills under $5000, as well as exempt businesses making less than a quarter-million annually from the city’s Unincorporated Business Tax. He encourages increase transparency about available property, so people know where they can start a business. He also wants to implement binding arbitration between landlords and commercial tenants to settle disputes more fairly.
Liu’s a strong supporter of policies that take from the rich to give to the poor. He wants to lower the income tax for those making less than half a million a year and raise it for everybody else, increasing the top 1%’s taxes by 1%. He’s against taxing non-profits and religious organizations, but has expressed interest in restoring the commuter tax, which taxed non-residents who worked in the city to pay for public services until 1999.
Liu’s endorsed by DC 37, the city’s largest public employee union. He’s promised at least some retroactive pay raises for expired city union contracts, but has been very mum on the specifics about how he’d get the funds for this. He says his suggestion to increase taxes on the wealthy while decreasing them for the working class could produce $250 million to $1 billion in additional revenue for the city, resulting in more money for union workers. Liu’s suggested increasing the minimum wage and supports guaranteeing all workers with at least five days of paid sick leave.
Liu served as Chair of the Board of Transportation and MTA while a member of the City Council. He wants to increase the MTA’s budget by $100 million to allow them to make improvements and expand bus and ferry services. He wants to limit automation and keep people working in the subways for both economic and safety reasons. He’s suggested restoring the commuter tax as well as tolling non-city residents on free bridges entering Manhattan to put revenue back into infrastructure. Liu embraces bicycle use and encourages safely incorporating it into city life, including increasing enforcement of rules on the road to bikers.
Liu’s suggested creating tax breaks for landlords who adopt renewable energy, and has suggested tapping into pension money to fund sustainability projects as well. In 2012, he proposed a two-year plan to issue Green Apple Bonds – or general obligation bonds – to remove toxic PCB-contaminated light fixtures from New York City public schools by 2015, six years ahead of the city’s current schedule. He’s spoken out against NYCHA, claiming it’s neglected a great deal of its affordable housing properties, leaving them decrepit and unsafe. He wants to implement mandatory inclusionary zoning, which would require developers to set aside a specific portion of land to create more affordable housing. He plans to provide section 8-style vouchers to up to 10,000 homeless families living in shelters to help get them get back on their feet. He’s called for a rent freeze of one year to help stabilize the housing market.
Post-Sandy Recovery and Rebuilding
As Comptroller, Liu’s office approved nearly $700 million in emergency spending for responding to the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy. He believes improving infrastructure is the best way to ensure New York is protected from future storms. He plans to increase the M.T.A.’s budget by $100 million so that it can use the extra funding to expand on and improve the city’s transportation systems, increasing resiliency to flooding and inclement weather.
Liu has said he believes community-based organizations are the best bet for helping the hungry. According to Liu, the government can do its part by giving these organizations freedom to grow, instead of bombarding them with complicated requirements and fees to exist and operate.
An immigrant himself, Liu is a strong supporter of immigration reform. Also a supporter of the LGBT community, he’s said any immigration reform should be applicable to same-sex couples, such as granting someone the ability to secure a visa for his or her spouse.