On Thursday, several prominent Chinese American leaders defended New York City Comptroller John Liu from allegations of campaign finance impropriety. Liu, the most well-known Asian American politician in New York City, is currently under investigation for potential campaign finance irregularities. These community leaders compared the allegations to the circumstances surrounding Private Danny Chen’s suicide. Chen is said to have committed suicide because of race-based hazing by other soldiers. “I see another assassination,” said Virginia Kee, a founding member of the Chinese-American Planning Council. “This is a character assassination. Worse than death, you lose your good name.”
Months ago, before the investigation into his campaign finance activities was publicized, Liu was considered one of the leading candidates to become mayor of New York City. He spent the last ten years establishing himself on the City Council, building coalitions with other communities, and growing to become a champion of progressive causes. He broke many Asian American stereotypes because he was outspoken, fearless, and very comfortable with self-promotion. Liu was the great Asian American hope.
Then came the arrest of Oliver Pan, a Liu fundraiser who was charged with engaging in campaign finance fraud. The arrest brought to light the federal investigation of Liu’s political fundraising. Federal investigations usually cast a dark cloud over whoever happens to be the target. Legally, a person is innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But in the court of public opinion, the standard of proof is usually much lower because people wonder, “why would the government investigate him if he’s innocent?” Kee is right that Liu’s name has been tarnished.
The investigation especially hurts Liu because it relates to campaign finance fraud. As the Comptroller, Liu is the city’s Chief Financial Officer. Before the investigation was publicized, Liu was successful in bringing press attention to financial misconduct in city government. But now, any criticism he makes will be undercut by allegations of his own financial misconduct. Such damage to Liu’s reputation has dealt a severe blow to his mayoral aspirations.
“This is politics,” said Nora Chang Wang, a commissioner at the Department of Employment under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. “When people see him as a viable candidate, such a strong solid candidate for that highest position in the city, in a way it’s a threat.”
All this is especially disappointing in light of the recent news that more Asian Americans are involved in politics than ever before. The result of the FBI investigation remains to be seen. It is unclear whether Liu has been unfairly targeted or whether Liu engaged in campaign finance fraud. What is clear, however, is that New York’s Asian American community’s most promising political star has lost much of his luster.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lexington is a native New Yorker who lives in Chicago. He blogs about law, his childhood, and his observations about people at http://www.