John Liu Surges in Race for Money, Grassroots Support

Recent campaign contributions data shows that John Liu’s campaign for New York City mayor is gaining momentum in local grassroots support, undermining negative perceptions created by the federal straw-donor charges currently under trial.

New York City’s comptroller moved up to third place in the fundraising race with a total of $3.23 mil. raised through the end of March. That represents a surge of over a million dollars in about a month, cutting the commanding money lead held by City council speaker Christine Quinn who has $6.58 mil., only about $300,000 more than she did in February. Liu’s pot continues to trail Bill de Blasio’s $3.71 mil. but has passed up Bill Thompson’s $2.71 mil.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the campaign contribution data is the average size of each candidate’s contributions. Liu’s is only $434, by far the lowest amount of all candidates with the exception of the $229 of Sal Albanese who is unlikely to be a major factor in the race. Liu’s three major Democratic rivals Quinn, de Blasio and Thompson averaged, respectively, $694, $705 and $767.

Liu also has the smallest percentage of donors from outside New York City among the major candidates, at just 32%, compared with 34% for Quinn, 39% for de Blasio and 46% for Thompson. A higher percentage suggests more support from the affluent executives and businessmen who profit from New York City but reside in the leafy suburbs of Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey, as well as in states like California and Florida.

Most significantly from the perspective of a candidate’s prospects through the summer months when the race will heat up, Liu has the broadest geographic support base among the leading candidates. His support from heavily Asian Queens is balanced out by support from Manhattan, much of it from midtown and uptown as well as the heavily Chinese downtown. He also has solid support in Brooklyn.

By contrast Liu’s likely runoff rival Quinn draws most of her support from midtown and uptown Manhattan, as do De Blasio and Thompson. This heavy concentration in Manhattan bodes ill for these three since they will be fighting down the stretch to divide a limited pot while Liu can leverage his broadly-based core supporters to get his message out on the streets.

Liu’s marked lead in grassroots support casts an ironic light on the trial against two former Liu associates for allegedly using straw donors to funnel money into the campaign, presumably from a small number of major donors with nefarious non-local motives. It also shows that Liu, 46, has stronger populist appeal than his rivals. Fortunately for him, he is the candidate best able to expand on that appeal through a knack for voicing eloquent empathy for minorities and working people struggling to raise a family in a city perceived as a jungle ruled by fatcats who have grown rich at their expense.