NY State Senate candidate John Liu rejects Lt. Gov candidate Tim Wu’s endorsement

John Liu in Manhattan in 2012. ( Photo credit: Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times)
John Liu in Manhattan in 2012. ( Photo credit: Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times)

This is virtually unheard of in political campaigns. This is a big frickin’ deal.

Former NYC Comptroller and City Councilman, and current candidate for NY State Senate John Liu, has openly rejected an endorsement from fellow Taiwanese American New York political hopeful Tim Wu, who is a rising rock star in the state’s Lt. Governor’s race. Democratic voters will be choosing between Wu and  establishment candidate Kathy Hochul on September 9th in the Democratic primary for the Lt. Governor’s race.

Tim Wu is running for New York's Lt. Governor's office, and will be on the ballot in next week's Democratic primary.
Tim Wu is running for New York’s Lt. Governor’s office, and will be on the ballot in next week’s Democratic primary.

Tim Wu recently opened up to the New York Times about his late father, Alan Wu, who immigrated to America as an immunologist but who also spent his off hours as an early activist for Taiwanese independence. Alan Wu strongly identified with the Taiwanese independence movement, and during his time at UC Berkeley, he founded an underground newsletter called “Facing the Spring Wind”, which became a significant publication for the movement in America. Tim Wu cites his father as an inspiration for his own budding political career.

Wu, whom analysts are theorizing might make a strong showing in next week’s Democratic primary and who might replace Kathy Hochul on Andrew Cuomo’s gubernatorial ticket in the fall, has rocketed to political superstardom in New York politics. So, an endorsement from Tim Wu for another struggling Asian American politician is no small potatoes.

This past week, Wu endorsed two fellow Asian American politicians: John Liu in his bid for State Senate against incumbent Tony Avella, and SJ Jung’s State Senate run against incumbent Toby Stavisky. Wu called the three politicians a “band of brothers”, saying:

“The three of us are to some degrees underdogs. It took some time to decide to do this, but I thought, you know what, we’ve just got to go for this.”

Wu, who if elected would be the first Asian American to hold statewide office in New York, said that his support for Liu and Jung stemmed in part from his belief that New York needed more Asian Americans in the state legislature.

[Wu] said “Asian Americans have been a traditionally under-represented group in New York politics.

“We could use a stronger Asian-American voice in the legislature.”

Wu had not previously discussed the endorsement with Liu’s camp, and it seems his spur-of-the-moment endorsement rankled the former NYC mayoral candidate. In an interview with New York Daily News, John Liu rejected the endorsement out-of-hand. Liu said in a statement:

“Just to be clear: I do not know this person, I have not met this person and I’m not interested in accepting endorsements from people I have never heard of before.”

This latest move may be part of Liu’s growing distance from the Asian American — and specifically Taiwanese American — community. In last year’s mayoral race, Liu’s support among Asian Americans — once high — had wavered significantly. For some, the problem was in Liu’s high-profile run-in with campaign finance rules in 2011 which was seen as a major embarrassment for the Asian American community. For others the dissent stems from the perception that Liu may be attempting to curry favour from mainland Chinese officials and Chinese American voters who support the Chinese government; consequently, these democracy movement activists may see Liu’s rejection of Wu’s endorsement as a disavowal of Wu’s touting of his father’s Taiwanese independence and democracy movement activism. While several Chinese American groups have offered support to Liu — the Epoch Times reports that the Fukien American Association donated $15,000 to Liu’s campaign — Liu was recently protested at a campaign event by Chinese American voters bearing signs calling Liu “a swindler” and “scum”.

A protester at a recent State Senate candidate's forum holds up a sign expressing his views on State Senate candidate John Liu. Other protesters unfurled a large sign demanding that Liu be arrested "to prevent further harm to the U.S.".
A protester at a recent State Senate candidate’s forum holds up a sign expressing his views on State Senate candidate John Liu. Other protesters unfurled a large sign demanding that Liu be arrested “to prevent further harm to the U.S.”

At the event, Liu joked that the protesters were his “friends” who had been following him around for years, and later suggested that they were members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, repeating a statement often used by the Chinese government in their persecution of Falun Gong members domestically and abroad.

This dust-up may represent Liu’s failure to safely navigate the (admittedly treacherous) waters surrounding the Chinese democracy movement: a hot-button topic that can bring out some of the most vocal and outspoken activists and protesters on either side of the political issue. The Chinese Communist government does not recognize Taiwanese independence, and labels Chinese activists who speak out in favour of democracy as anti-China. A significant fraction of Chinese American immigrants are ethnically Chinese but nationally Taiwanese, or are escaping persecution for their political dissent in mainland China; consequently, Liu may be falling victim to the deep political divide between Chinese nationals and democracy movement activists.

Liu’s troubles with some within the Chinese American community are certain to take their toll. After his failed mayoral bid last year, Liu is struggling to make a comeback in his State Senate campaign. This week, he told World Journal (as reported in Epoch Times, I could not independently verify the quote) that he’s not “overly optimistic” that he will earn much Chinese American support from voters or from voters of any particular race or ethnicity, or optimistic in general about defeating Avella.

There’s no word yet from Wu’s camp about the rejection of his endorsement, or from SJ Jung’s campaign regarding his apparent membership in Wu’s “Band of Brothers”.

Update: Tim Wu doubled down on his endorsement of John Liu despite Liu’s rejection of his support, telling New York Daily News:

“I stand by my endorsement. I think he’s the best person for the office,” he said. “I understand he’s under a lot of pressure.”

Note: This post was somewhat modified to clarify that it relies in part on the reporting of the Epoch Times, a strongly pro-democracy and anti-CCP outlet, and some of the quotes within from that journal could not be independently verified. Since publishing this post, I have developed serious reservations about the objectivity of this news source.

I also want to propose an alternative explanation for Liu’s rejection of Wu’s endorsement: Liu counts among his supporters several prominent Chinese American organizations. Several minority organizations derive a strong amount of corporate sponsorship from both Comcast and Time Warner, and have spoken out against net neutrality. Wu is both the inventor of the term “net neutrality” and has designed his platform around halting the proposed multi-billion dollar merger between the two cable giants.

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