NEW YORK CITY — City Comptroller John Liu officially launched his bid for mayor Sunday afternoon at a raucous rally with hundreds of supporters at City Hall.
Ardent fans of the former city councilman, whose once-promising campaign has been overshadowed by a federal investigation into his fundraising, overwhelmed the City Hall steps, mobbing him as he arrived and elbowing for a chance to get close to the first Asian American elected into city-wide office.
In fact, so many people showed up that Liu decided to repeat his prepared announcement speech a second time to a crowd that had gathered at the gates of City Hall Park after they were refused entry to the steps because the area had reached capacity.
"I proudly announce that I'm running to be mayor of the City of New York —" said Liu, who was introduced by his wife and 12-year-old son, Joey, amid frequent interruptions by chants of "Mayor Liu!"
"...Because this city makes a promise with us that every single New Yorker has the opportunity to succeed. And I'm going to make damn sure that that promise is fulfilled," he said.
Liu painted himself as a champion for everyday New Yorkers, and argued that he better understood their struggles than other candidates because of his family's own immigrant journey.
"I don't need to tell you that economic justice and equal opportunity have gone the way of checkered cabs and 50-cent slices," he said, arguing that the "rich keep getting filthy rich," while others struggle to get by in the city.
Liu had been expected to be a formidable challenger in the race for the Democratic nomination to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which includes City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 2009 challenger, former Comptroller Bill Thompson.
But the arrest of Liu's former campaign treasurer and a top fundraiser on charges that they tried to use straw donors to skirt campaign finance rules has continued to hang over the campaign, as demonstrated by the slew of questions he received from the press Sunday.
Their trial had been expected to start in February, but has now been postponed until April, leaving him livid.
"This so-called investigation has been going on for four years now! They've interrogated thousands of my supporters, reviewed a million documents, even wire-tapped my cell phone for a year-and-half."
"When is this going to end? It's time to put up or shut up," he said angrily, echoing comments he made during a recent candidates' forum in Harlem.
"We've got a campaign to run and election to run," said Liu, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Liu also suggested that the investigation had been politically motivated — but refused to say who he thought was responsible.
"Listen, it's a political town. There are lots of vested interests — vested interests that I'm sure would not like to see change," he said, adding that he intended to run no matter the verdict in the trail.
"People have said there's a witch hunt. The problem is there's no witch," he said. "So we're going full-steam ahead."
Liu kicked off his bid with a marathon day of campaigning that crisscrossed the five boroughs, from Brooklyn, to Staten Island, to Washington Heights.
If the race were won on stamina alone, Liu, whose schedule on an ordinary day is packed with a dozen events, would already have the crown.
His marathon Sunday was scheduled to span nearly 15 hours and a whopping 137-miles, according to Google Maps — with 13 stops (not including en-route radio interviews) across the city.
That included stops at two Brooklyn churches, a pre-St. Patrick's Day Parade breakfast in Staten Island, a stop for corned beef and cannoli at a Staten Island assemblyman's office, a visit to an annual passover food distribution site with Jewish groups in Brooklyn, and a Lunar New Year celebration in Flushing, Queens, before his announcement on City Hall steps.
After the announcement, Liu was set to appear at a series of "coffee klatchs" with voters in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn; Grand Concourse and Riverdale in the Bronx; and Washington Heights and Harlem in Manhattan — all before stopping at the Bukharian Jewish Community Center banquet in Forest Hills, Queens, and then finally returning home to Flushing, Queens.
While Liu had been campaigning and attending mayoral candidate forums for months, he remained, before Sunday, the only candidate to not have formally thrown his hat into the race for the Democratic primary nomination.
Whoever wins will face the Republican nominee in November.