LOWER MANHATTAN — City Comptroller John Liu should forget any hopes of running for mayor in 2013 after his campaign treasurer was arrested for alleged campaign finance fraud, political experts said.
With the arrest of Jia “Jenny” Hou, who had been responsible for all financial disclosures related to Liu's potential 2013 run for mayor, coming less than two weeks after one of Liu's top fundraisers, Oliver Pan, was indicted for alleged financial misdeeds, experts said there's no chance he'll be able to pull off a successful bid for office.
"Forget 2013," said Baruch College professor Doug Muzzio.
If investigators discover that Liu had any prior knowledge of his staffers' alleged scheme to evade campaign finance laws, Muzzio added, "he can kiss his political career — and possibly his freedom — goodbye."
But even if Liu isn’t officially implicated, Democratic consultant Scott Levenson agreed that Liu’s aspirations as a mayoral candidate are "no longer realistic."
Part of the problem, he said, is that Liu is not just any city official, but the one charged with guarding the city’s finances from fraud.
"It’s somewhat unfair, but it's a statement of unqualified truth that a comptroller gets held to a higher standard in regard to fiscal matters," Levenson said. "As a consequence, any shadow on the handling of these matters… leads the electorate to take a real pause."
Speaking to reporters shortly after Hou’s indictment, Liu said he is still weighing his options when it comes to the campaign.
"I’m going to review all the stuff that has transpired today, and we’ll figure out how to move forward from here," he said.
Liu, who spoke quietly and appeared withdrawn, repeatedly skirted questions about whether he was aware of Hou's alleged law-breaking, but said he believed the campaign had "acted properly at all times."
"I was rather stunned when I heard the news this afternoon," he said.
The complaint makes numerous charges, including accusing her of offering to reimburse one donor and teaching campaign volunteers tactics to elude authorities, such as forging signatures.
The allegations also strike close to home.
The treasurer is typically one the closest advisors on a candidate's team, making it harder to believe that Liu wasn’t aware of what was going on, said top Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf.
Asked by a reporter why he had placed his entire bookkeeping operation in the hands of Hou, a 25-year-old with no apparent experience or advanced training, Liu said she had proven herself as a volunteer on his 2009 campaign.
"Jenny Hou is a young person, but one whose intelligence and diligence and hard work has been among the very top percentiles of individuals of any age that I have known," he said. "I’ve come to know her very well and depend on her."
Despite the November arrest, Liu has proven remarkably resistant, spending his evenings darting from one meet-and-greet to the next and schmoozing with long-time supporters whose loyalty to the first Asian-American to hold citywide office seems unshakable.
The latest Quinnipiac poll, for instance, puts Liu’s approval rating at 40 percent — far lower than the 57 percent he was seeing last May — but still just two points behind fellow mayoral hopeful and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.
His latest campaign filing showed he had managed to raising more than half a million dollars in the second half of 2011— far less than the previous six months — but also not far behind other top contenders.
Some have pointed to the federal investigation and suggested that Liu should not only withdraw from the mayoral race, but resign. But Liu insisted he has no intention of stepping down.
"The ‘some people’ that you refer to have been making that suggestion for several months now," Liu said Tuesday. "A little more than two years ago I was sworn in as comptroller of this great city of New York. I have vigorously followed through on my responsibilities and will continue to do so."
Sheinkopf cautioned against counting Liu out too soon.
"Never count anyone out completely," he said. "Until the handcuffs are on, don’t count him out."