Asian American Political Aspirations Shaken By Liu Scandal

Thursday, January 19, 2012

An ongoing FBI investigation into campaign donations to New York City Comptroller John Liu has caused a reassessment of his candidacy for mayor among his strongest supporters. While the Asian-American community has not given up on Liu, many say they are nervous about the probe's impact both on Liu's prospects and on rising political stars in the various Asian communities.

Behind the scenes, Liu’s damaged reputation has led to lengthy discussions in New York’s Chinese and Korean communities about the next generation of political leaders.

Recently, a group of young Korean, Chinese and South Asian professionals gathered recently at a Manhattan restaurant, discussing the scandal that has engulfed the first Asian-American elected to city-wide office.

“Did Liu come under increased scrutiny because of perceptions of foreign money? Will there be heightened suspicion of untoward behavior by other Asian American candidates or of Asian money in American politics? These topics are on the mind of every Asian-American," said Bright Limm, president of Korean Americans for Political Advancement, a group that mobilized a large turnout of Korean voters in State Senate District 11, contributing to the victory of Senator Tony Avella last year.

Liu received around $517,000 in contributions during the second part of 2011, according to campaign filings revealed Wednesday. In the first part of the year, he raised nearly $1 million.

A Record Tarnished

The tarnish on Liu's political shine began in October with a New York Times investigation that found a number of people Liu listed as donors denying they gave him money. Shortly thereafter, Liu’s fundraiser Xing Wu “Oliver” Pan was arrested and charged with conspiring to arrange a $16,000 political contribution to Liu under the cover of straw donors.

Now the FBI and federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether foreign money flowed into Liu’s 2009 campaign. The Foreign Agents Registration Act prohibits campaign contributions by foreign nationals.

Liu has said he is not daunted by the investigations, and will continue to be an aggressive comptroller while he raises money for a mayoral run in 2013. (He has not formally announced his candidacy for mayor yet.) 

At a recent fundraising dinner with prospective Asian-American donors, Liu was asked if the FBI investigation had changed his relationship with Asian voters and campaign contributors.

"At the end of the day, nothing is going to stop or slow us down,” he said.

Liu supporters held a press conference last month, and a Korean group of supporters recently held a fundraising event in Flushing, Queens. It was the first Korean fundraising event since the FBI started going after Korean donors to the comptroller, according to Danny Shin, senior reporter of 000.

Recent Support

Liu’s recent birthday celebration was well attended by the mainstream political establishment. It was the first fundraiser since he decided to accept donations of the maximum amount allowed, $4,950, in the wake of his fundraising scandal. Previously, Liu had refused to accept more than $800 from donors, which he said reflected the lucky number eight in Chinese culture, and also gave him bragging rights about his vast number of supporters.

But a Liu campaign event on December 19 was called off due to concerns about the criminal probe. 

The event's sponsor was the Lin Sing Association, a 111-year-old Chinatown advocacy group. Its senior adviser Eddie Chiu said the scandal had a chilling effect on donors. After the FBI visited the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, Chiu received calls from many Liu's supporters. They were nervous about dealing with the FBI and said they wouldn’t attend the fundraiser.

“The FBI investigation shocked the Chinese community, the Chinese are very sensitive to it," Chiu said.

The past decade saw a dramatic increase New York's Asian population, and with it a rise in political clout. Asians now make up about 13 percent of the city’s population, with more than one million Asians counted in the 2010 Census.  The community's fundraising ability has also grown. 

Some young Asian-American professionals suspect that the new immigrant political force is threatening to the political establishment, and this is partly why Liu was targeted. John Park, a member of KAPA’s Steering Committee, suggested that if Liu was not a person of color, his legal difficulties might not have aroused the same attention.

“Obama is still being questioned on his identity — if he is foreign born or is a Muslim. However, not one question about Mitt Romney. Does a foreign face equal foreign money?” Park asked.

There’s also concern that if Asian Americans become nervous about making political contributions, it could affect other Asians seeking higher office such as Assemblywoman Grace Meng, and City Council members Peter Koo and Margaret Chin.

Asian-Americans traditionally have lagged behind other immigrant groups in voter registration. But 2009 was a watershed year with large numbers motivated to support Liu's run for city comptroller. Whatever the future of Liu’s political career,  his political rise has invigorated a new generation of Asian-American political activists and civic leaders.

So despite worries about Liu's future, Bright Limm, the Korean-American activist, said there was reason for optimism.

“We should conserve our energy for political advancement,” he said.

To that end, a new group called the Asian American Civic Alliance, was formed this month to promote Asian-American political participation during the election season. The group will focus on voter registration and voter education. It also is planning to run a legal referral hotline for Asian Americans who have been contacted by the FBI regarding their donations to Liu.

Stella Chan is a reporter for Sing Tao Daily and a Feet in Two Worlds reporting fellow.

Feet in Two Worlds, a project of the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.


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Comments [8]

Joe C. from Brooklyn

ha ha ha. Mr. Welch--you got served.

May. 31 2012 07:24 AM
John Park

Mr. Joseph Welch,

When using facts as points to counter someone's opinion or statement, I recommend making sure your own facts are in order. From your statement, it's evident you either have challenges with reading comprehension, or intentionally misrepresent what people say.

Giving the benefit of the doubt regarding your character, let's address reading comprehension.

Reading Comprehension issue #1
There are differences in degrees, and differences in kind. Did I infer or imply that there weren't justifiable red flags or that attention shouldn't be given to the situation surrounding John Liu? I did not. And that's a fact.

Do I think there are red flags and think it should be investigated? Of course I do. I don't know anyone who disagrees with that. To infer I claimed otherwise would be disingenuous.

As everyone can see above, the quote attributes me saying "..if Liu was not a person of color, his legal difficulties might not have aroused the same attention." When suspicions arise around political candidates around minorities, and particularly if they are ethnicities considered by some to be more "foreign," the suspicions tend to stick far more easily. When "Birthers" questioned Obama's citizenship, true there should be a protocol that looks into any red flags, but let's admit it received far more attention than it deserved. The attacks against Obama questioning his birth certificate was, especially in online forums, were often accompanied by or packaged with accusations and attacks of him being Muslim and other nonsense that seemed to question whether or not he was a "real" American.

US History, even starting before Japanese Americans were interned during WWII in this country--and we are talking US Citizens--to Wen Ho Lee and beyond, are full of examples where ethnic minorities, particularly Asian Americans, drew more suspicion and attention by virtue of being of a certain ethnic group. This is history. This is a fact.

Reading Comprehension #2
You "paraphrase" Mark Twain as saying "Crying racism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." This is NOT a fact.

His famous quote, which I'm well aware of, is "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." I am appalled that you would 1) not accurately comprehend a very basic sentence or 2) try to intentionally manipulate the opinion of others by manipulating the words of an iconic American literary and political thinker who cried against racism himself. In fact, Mark Twain lived through the Civil War and was disgusted by and advocated against the institution of slavery.

I'll let others figure out who the real scoundrels are.

As another famous quote goes: "One of the striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives." Mark Twain actually said this. And unlike your quote, this is a fact.

Jan. 23 2012 12:46 AM
bro from queens from Queens Village

Remember? Liu was exposed as a liar and hypocrite who resorted to making up, quite unnecessarily, stories of working in sweat shops and racial discrimination to promote his candidacy for city-wide office. No wonder he's caught up in other shady misdoings. He's not worth the trouble, his friends should find a lest tainted flag-bearer

Jan. 19 2012 03:51 PM

I don't agree that the investigation of John Liu would affect the prospects of other Asian American leaders like Grace Meng. I don't think we should simply group people by their ethnicity. Grace Meng and John Liu are very different leaders. Some political leaders have more ambitions beyond public service and have more hidden agendas.

Jan. 19 2012 01:49 PM
G.R. from Manhattan

Could it be that Joseph Welch is not a person of color? Perhaps blaming the victim is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Jan. 19 2012 12:05 PM
Paul I. Adujie from Elmont, NY

I am not an Asian American... even so, I was elated when Mr. Liu was elected to a citywide office position... and I was ecstatic over the possibility of Mr. Liu becoming the first Mayor of New York City of Asian heritage.

It is the case that in America, Asian Americans have for too long been seen and never heard... It was a happy thought for me... thinking that the tides were changing for the better... as America, and New York City in particular is beginning to reflect the true composition of America... a true reflection of the components parts which makes up the population.

African Americans were neglected and even despised... never shown in movies and commercials and elected or appointed to powerful political offices... that is changing, albeit, slowly.

Asian Americans and Latinos and Latina are hopefully at the cusps of moving up as well... movies, commercials and yes, elected and appointive powerful offices in America... recently, we learnt of the racially motivated humiliation and suicide induced by such abuse, oppression and humiliation of an American Army Soldier, Chen, and his suffering and death, were brought about by fellow soldiers and fellow Americans who were intolerant of the late Mr. Chen's Asian heritage.... a heritage they derided, denigrated and mocked!

I and the rest of the world await an America which fires full throttle all her engines... and employs and includes all Americans in the creation of greater America... where no part of the panoply and potpourri of America have to apologize for their existence

Jan. 19 2012 11:43 AM

let me see: a probe on someone who is looking to challenge, the deep seated coruption in nyc politics. this is not a story with two sides,this is a witchhunt by corporate power, against someone who is on the side of the people.

Jan. 19 2012 10:35 AM
Joseph Welch from Manhattan

" John Park, a member of KAPA’s Steering Committee, suggested that if Liu was not a person of color, his legal difficulties might not have aroused the same attention."

Have you no shame, Mr. Park?

All candidates filings routinely get reviewed: by political reporters, political junkies, and opponents. That's fact. Scores of $800 contributions from dishwashers raises the reddest of flags.
One of his bundlers has been indicted. That's fact.
Liu illegally withheld the names of his bundlers for months.That's fact.

Again, have you no shame, Mr. Park?

To paraphrase Mark Twain, "Crying racism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

Jan. 19 2012 09:22 AM

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