CHINATOWN — Embattled City Comptroller John Liu all but officially declared he will run for mayor Tuesday night — just weeks before federal fraud cases against his former campaign treasurer and a top fundraiser are set to head to trial.
At a birthday bash at Elizabeth Street's restaurant Jing Fong, Liu, who has not been charged in connection with the alleged book-cooking, told hundreds of eager supporters he is still running in 2013 — but continued to play coy.
"Now that 2013 is here, we're going to make the big announcement very soon," he told the crowd at the red-, white- and blue-themed party, eliciting frenzied cheers.
The news, however, was less exciting than many in the packed room had hoped.
"Tonight, I am announcing that we're going to make an announcement soon!" Liu told the crowd at the birthday fundraiser, which organizers said was expected to draw 800 guests.
Still, many supporters didn't get the memo.
"He will be a good mayor for us!" declared Queens City Councilman Peter Koo, who said Liu, the first Asian-American elected to citywide office, had helped pave his way into politics.
"He will win the primary," predicted Koo. "... And then in September we will have a new mayor."
Another avid supporter, Jennifer Lin, went as far as to channel a seductive Marilyn Monroe as she sang Liu a rendition of "Happy Birthday, Mr. Mayor."
"To me, John is like a symbol of American dreams," she told the audience after the performance. "Thank you, Mr. Mayor."
A bevy of prominent community leaders, including union bigwigs and clergy members, were on hand to mark Liu's 46th birthday. Also there were City Councilmembers Robert Jackson, Peter Vallone Jr., Leroy Comrie and Inez Dickens, who serenaded Liu with her own version of "Happy Birthday."
Despite the show of support, Liu made several direct references to the federal investigation into his fundraising practices, which have badly tarnished his chances of winning, many observers say. Jia "Jenny" Hou, Liu's former campaign treasurer, and key fundraiser Xing Wu "Oliver" Pan are set to go on trial Feb. 4 in Federal District Court in Manhattan.
"It's not going to be easy," Liu acknowledged Tuesday. "As we have seen in this past year, lots of things thrown at me, lots of things thrown at my campaign. All sorts of insinuations and allegations — none proven.
"It's going to get nasty. I have no illusions or delusions about how this campaign's gonna go," he added.
In addition to the criminal allegations, Liu also brought up another controversy that has dogged him for years.
In an elaborately produced campaign-style video that played before he spoke, Liu repeated a story he'd told during his 2009 campaign about how he was forced to work by his mother's side in the Queens' garment district as a child.
"I learned firsthand why they called the place a sweatshop," Liu is heard saying in the new video.
Liu's claims that he had worked in a sweatshop have been challenged by the Daily News, which reported in August 2009 that Liu's parents and two of his mother's friends contradicted the tale.
After the speeches, Liu cut a giant American flag cake celebrating what he declared to be his 39th birthday "for the eighth time!"