HARLEM — The lawyer representing embattled Comptroller John Liu’s former campaign treasurer Jenny Hou begged for donations to help pay her legal fees Monday night, hours before she was set to appear in court on a slew of campaign finance charges.
"Resources are needed…Please, we need your help!" attorney Gerald Lefcourt told several hundred Liu supporters at a rally at the Mother A.M.E. Zion Church Community Center in Harlem, where clergy leaders sang Liu’s praises and urged him to continue his campaign for mayor.
Lefcourt said three full-time federal prosecutors and "endless FBI agents" were out to pin Hou, 25, who intends to plead not guilty in court.
"Save Jenny!" he said to applause from the audience, which included dozens of union members but just two other elected officials — City Councilwomen Inez Dickens and Melissa Mark-Viverito.
The event, which was described as "an opportunity for backers to show their support and stand with [Liu] during this challenging time," began with a performance by a gospel choir.
Sitting on a grand wood-and-red-velvet chair that made him look like a king on a throne, Liu listened as clergy members painted him as an innocent warrior unjustly under attack, and compared him to righteous biblical figures, including Jesus, Joseph and David.
"They come after you when doing the right thing," said the Rev. Gregory Robeson Smith, of the Mother AME Zion Church, who welcomed the crowd to what he described as "the launching of [Liu’s] campaign to be the chief executive of the world."
"We’re here to tell John, just keep on going," the Rev. Reggie Williams, of Addicts Rehabilitation Center, said.
Liu’s campaign has been floundering since the arrest of the 25-year-old campaign treasurer in February on allegations that she helped use straw donors to channel illegal contributions far above the legal limit into Liu's campaign coffers.
Hou, who was indicted Friday, is set to appear in court Tuesday, along with Oliver Pan, a top Liu contributor, who was also arrested for his participation in the alleged scheme.
After about a dozen speakers, Liu climbed to the podium to a standing ovation, loud applause and chants of "Keep going John!"
"I will, I absolutely will," a beaming Liu told the audience, which also included the parents of deceased 19-year-old U.S. Army soldier Danny Chen and Sean Bell, who was shot dead by cops in Queens in 2006.
Liu described Hou, who faces up to 60 years in prison, as idealistic, intelligent, passionate and driven, and said his thoughts were with her.
"I think of Jenny every day," he said.
He also said that, despite the allegations, he was "proud" of his campaign’s fundraising efforts, and said he had gone "above and beyond" by voluntarily declining contributions from people doing business with the city and limiting donations to $800 — a lucky number for many in the Chinese community.
But instead of being seen as civic-minded, he said his efforts were spun as "some kind of weird, freaky Chinese thing," by critics and the press.
Despite calls by some for him to leave the race, Liu also professed his resolve, saying he was fully "prepared" for 2013.
"I am ready, willing and able to go into battle," he said. "I’m going to keep going. I’m going all the way!"
Pressed after the rally to explain what he meant by "all the way," Liu continued to play coy, refusing to officially announce a run for Gracie Mansion, but leaving little doubt of his intentions.
"We’ve got a big election coming up next year. There’s so much speculation about it. But all my options are open, and I’m going to go all the way, wherever that leads me," he said, adding that he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.
"Words cannot describe my gratitude," Liu said, beaming. "I’ve never experienced anything like this before."