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John Liu Says All Democratic Mayoral Candidates are Basically the Same

By Jill Colvin | March 19, 2013 4:58pm

NEW YORK CITY — There is little substantive difference between the Democrats running to replace Michael Bloomberg, mayoral hopeful and City Comptroller John Liu said this week.

While there are "a couple of issues" that separate them — including stop-and-frisk, which Liu wants to end and not reform as his challengers do — he said that, on the "big issues," they're pretty much the same.

"We're all liberal Democrats. There's not going to be that much contrast," Liu said Sunday during a marathon day of campaigning that took him on a more than 14-hour trek across the five boroughs.

"You know, we're not going to be all that different on housing, on education," Liu continued, while noshing on Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins — complaining first that they hadn't been offered to him earlier and then that there were only plain ones left. "There might be some slight nuances here and there. Are voters really gonna get all the different nuances? Maybe some of the advocates will, but... We're all liberal Democrats."

The comments came after sunset, when Liu, sprinting from one event to the next on a route that spanned more than 137-miles, decided to hop into the press van he'd commissioned to ferry reporters from one stop to the next.

Sitting in the back row, with his seatbelt carefully buckled, Liu opened up about his campaign strategy.

When did he first consider running for mayor?

"Probably from the moment I got elected comptroller," he said.

Should he have said that out loud?

"How many other comptrollers or public advocates or borough presidents are willing to admit that — that they're thinking about running for mayor the second they get elected to their position?" he asked.

Does he think he can win?

"[I see] a very clear path to victory," Liu said.

Otherwise, he said, "I wouldn't be running. It's way too much time and money to throw down the drain if there was not a clear shot to winning. You get people's hopes up. It's just not good."

Liu is facing City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and former Comptroller Bill Thompson for the Democratic nomination.

Liu said his calculus relied on a few key assumptions: for one, that Asian-American and other immigrant voters will turn out like never before, driven by the excitement of getting to vote for one of their own.

"In Bill's case — Thompson's case — it's not the first time. You know, the governor's been African-American. The president is African American. So it's not as big as a deal as it is in the Asian community," he said. "First time, it's big!"

For another, he was skeptical about polls that showed him trailing slightly his chief rivals, with fewer than 10 percent of the vote. He argued the polls undercount minority voters — especially those who speak Chinese and other languages or may be weary of speaking to outsiders.

"You have to ask, do people who are making those phone calls knows how to ask questions in Chinese or Bengali or Korean or Urdu?" he asked.

Instead of polls, he said, he's judging his support based on the response he gets when he walks down the street —not to mention the spillover crowd that mobbed City Hall for his announcement.

Liu also shrugged off his marathon schedule, which even on a normal day can include as many as a dozen events.

"There's nothing to it, really," he said with a shrug. "This is not work. Work is my mother in a sweat shop seven days a week. This is a piece of cake compared to what she and a lot of other people have to do."