John Liu Compares Himself to Barack Obama at Harlem Rally

Comptroller John Liu at his rally last night.

Comptroller John Liu at his rally last night.

Yes he can, apparently.

Comptroller and mayoral hopeful John Liu hosted a raucous rally at the Apollo Theater in Harlem last night, likening himself at its climax to President Obama. Speaking for about a half hour to a crowd that filled the famed theater’s lower level a week after his campaign was denied millions in public matching funds, Mr. Liu hammered home his populist message as his candidacy flounders, at least according to the public polls.

“We’ve got all these polls and pundits and doubters and naysayers. I’ve heard it all before,” Mr. Liu said behind a transparent lectern on stage, sans speaking notes. “Six years ago, a fellow by the name of Barack Obama stood on this very stage and he had a very simple but powerful message. And that message was: ‘Yes, we can.’” 

At least 100 supporters, many of them black and Asian, chanted “Yes we can!” and “John Liu!” as funk music played Mr. Liu off the stage, where he was mobbed by camera-waving admirers. The rally, held the same day as the funeral of Bill Lynch, a legendary Harlem-based political consultant and Mr. Liu’s former campaign manager, was a chance for Mr. Liu to demonstrate the strength of his support despite the numbers and the matching fund decision, which Mr. Liu’s lawyer has called a “death penalty” for the campaign.

On stage, Mr. Liu had the swagger of a leading contender for Gracie Mansion, taking off his suit jacket and addressing the crowd as “brothers and sisters” while laying out his leftist political agenda.

“My name is John Liu and I am the next mayor of New York City!” he boomed. “Things may look okay on the surface but we know there are deep problems taking root in our city: problems of economic inequities, problems of social injustice. And we do need change in New York City and I am proud to have been the voice for change for many years here. And I will be the mayor for change here in New York City.”

The Liu van parked outside the Apollo Theater.

The Liu van parked outside the Apollo Theater.

Norman Seabrook, the president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, introduced Mr. Liu, striking an even more defiant tone than the comptroller. Along with a union leader from the Communication Workers of America, Mr. Seabrook portrayed Mr. Liu as a victim of establishment forces that were afraid of him rising to power.

“They asked me, ‘Why is John not getting the press like everyone else?’ And I said, ‘He’s the new David Dinkins,’” Mr. Seabrook said, comparing Mr. Liu to the city’s first black mayor. “John Liu’s the new David Dinkins. They didn’t want David to win. So we gotta fight with David and Goliath right now … but you all know who won that fight.”

Around a dozen orange-shirted volunteers and even a Liu-themed van, courtesy of Mr. Seabrook, greeted the comptroller as he arrived, along with volunteers eagerly handing out editions of Our Time Press, which dedicated almost an entire endorsement issue to him.

“Four years ago, I wanted to do something more so I ran for city comptroller. People asked me, ‘Why are you running? You can’t win,’” Mr. Liu said. “I looked them in the eyes and said, ‘We need change in this city. I’ve got great people, great strategy and we’re going to win and we’re going to fight for those changes!’”

“And that year I was elected New York City comptroller,” he added.