The Queens Democratic Party has endorsed former City Comptroller John Liu as its candidate in the 11th state Senate district, pitting the former Flushing councilman and mayoral candidate against a former colleague, incumbent state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who angered Democrats when he joined the Independent Democratic Caucus — a group of breakaway Democrats who caucus with Republicans in the state’s upper legislative body.
Liu received the Democratic Party’s endorsement at the county organization’s meeting in Forest Hills on Monday.
“When voters elect Democrats, they expect them to stay Democrats,” Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Bronx, Queens) said at Monday’s meeting, according to several sources.
Liu did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but tweeted just before the meeting: “The fight to protect our Democratic values is coming to Queens. Together we will move our city and state forward. Stay tuned.”
Liu was elected to the City Council in 2001 — the same day as Avella, who represented an adjoining district. After being term limited in 2009, Liu ran in and won the comptroller’s race.
But his political ambitions took a beating after his campaign finances were probed and a treasurer and contributor went to jail after being convicted of various crimes in connection with a scheme to funnel money to Liu’s campaign through straw donors.
Many Democrats felt Liu, who was never charged with any crime, was unfairly tarred by the scandal. The city’s Campaign Finance Board denied Liu matching funds for his mayoral campaign because of it.
Liu finished fourth in the Democratic primary for mayor last year, winning 7 percent of the vote, but a large chunk of his support came from Flushing and the surrounding neighborhoods. He also had the support of several powerful unions, and sources say some of them are leaning toward backing Liu in this race.
Avella, who has often had a rocky relationship with the Queens Democratic establishment, won the seat in 2010, defeating Republican incumbent Frank Padavan, who had held it for nearly 40 years.
“In 2010, they let bygones be bygones for the sake of winning the seat,” said one Democratic source, who noted Avella’s victory that year made every one of Queens’ state legislative seats Democratic for the first time ever. Queens’ only other GOP state legislator to serve in the past decade, former state Sen. Serphin Maltese, was defeated by state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) in 2008.
But Avella’s joining of the IDC apparently reopened the old wounds.
“The party doesn’t trust him and they’re not too worried about losing the seat,” the source said.
The district was made slightly more Democratic in the 2010 redistricting, with the addition of Democratic precincts in Whitestone, Bay Terrace and Jamaica. It also has a fast-growing Asian-American population, whose votes Liu won in the mayoral primary by large margins.
The 11th District, which has been redrawn slightly since 2010, includes College Point, Whitestone, Bayside, Auburndale, Douglaston, Little Neck, Bellerose, Jamaica Estates and parts of Jamaica, Hollis, Queens Village and North Flushing.
Avella, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment, isn’t the only member of the IDC in the city to face a primary challenge.
The leader of the group, state Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx, Westchester) is facing a challenge from former councilman Oliver Koppell, who also served as state attorney general for a short time in 1994.
Democratic incumbents Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing) and Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) are also both facing primary races this year.
Stavisky is being opposed by Flushing businessman and activist S.J. Jung.
Smith, who was booted from the IDC, is facing trial on charges that he attempted to buy his way on the GOP mayoral ballot last year. He’s being opposed by Deputy Borough President Leroy Comrie and former Assembly candidate Clyde Vanel.
The primaries are Sept. 9.