John Liu, NY’s Asian American Political Trailblazer, Endorses Andrew Yang

John Liu, the first Asian American elected to citywide office, has announced his support for Andrew Yang, in a long-awaited endorsement. The moment represented a handing of the political baton, which could bolster votes for Yang among the New York City’s growing Asian American electorate.

Liu, who ran for mayor in 2013 and was once called the “Energizer Bunny,” is currently a state senator representing Queens; he had previously been a City Council member and city comptroller. Given his status in New York’s political landscape, his endorsement was considered highly coveted. With four weeks left to go until primary day, his backing gives Yang a united group of supporters among the city’s prominent Asian American elected officials, including Representative Grace Meng, state Assemblyman Ron Kim, and longtime City Council member Margaret Chin.

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During a press conference on Monday (watch here) at City Hall Park, Liu described Yang in historic terms, noting that he had raised the profile of Asian Americans with his presidential run. Yang was the first Asian American man to run for president as a Democrat.

“He is the most heard Asian American in the United States. And with that, he’s a bit [like] our AOC,” he said, referring to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive star of the Democratic party who represents parts of the Bronx and Queens.

Asian Americans make up about 15% of the city’s population but they represent only about 8% of voters. Political experts have said that Yang’s presence in the race could generate a higher-than-usual turnout.

In accepting Liu’s endorsement, Yang portrayed his campaign as a “historic chance” for those outside the traditional political system to be in power.

“I don’t owe people favors going back years and decades,” he said, alluding to his top rival Eric Adams who has been scrutinized over his relationships with donors. “And that scares a lot of people. That scares a lot of people that have been making a living off of the favor trading and the influence peddling for years.”

Liu’s endorsement had been the source of speculation. Interviewed for a recent Curbed article, he said he had not decided and dismissed ethnic pride as the deciding factor. “Andrew is a very strong candidate. His disadvantage is probably that people don’t know him very well, whereas people have known Eric for many years, and Eric has been working hard in the community,” he told the outlet.

Adams held his own press event on Monday morning, in which he was endorsed by the former head of the civil liberties union, Norman Siegel. Afterwards, he spoke warmly of Liu.

“We’re old friends for so many years,” he said, adding that his mother called Liu her second favorite politician.

Liu said he planned to use all five votes under the city’s ranked-choice voting system. For the first time, primary voters can choose up to five candidates in order of preference.

But the state senator declined to name his second choice.

As a mayoral candidate in 2013, Liu was starkly different from Yang. Mentored by the political strategist Bill Lynch who ran David Dinkins’s groundbreaking campaign, he was steeped in city politics. But his chances were upended after a fundraising scandal which resulted in the denial of millions in public financing funds.

On Monday, Liu was asked about the difference between himself and Yang as well as the latter’s “knowledge gaps,” a reference to a series of stumbles last week when the candidate appeared uninformed about several city policies.

Liu downplayed those moments.

“‘We have seen candidates with character gaps,” he said. “We have seen candidates with integrity gaps. We have seen candidates with gaps that are that I’m not going to mention. So if if people are going to snipe at Andrew Yang, because of some New York City knowledge or New York City cultural gaps, I think he’ll be fine.”

Nonetheless, Liu conceded that he doesn’t agree with all of Yang’s ideas, adding, “It’s impossible given the breadth of his platform.”