John Liu: Two strikes against comptroller could crush political career

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Some say the man charged with keeping New York City’s finances in check is in over his head after the arrest of a second member of his campaign fundraising team yesterday.

The FBI arrested Jia “Jenny” Hou, 25, Comptroller John Liu’s main fundraiser, yesterday morning on charges of fraud and obstructing a government investigation.  

Hou is accused of participating in a scheme that used “straw donors” to funnel large, illegal contributions above the individual limit authorized by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, according to the FBI complaint obtained by Metro.

“He’s in the danger zone,” Doug Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs said of Liu. “If I were he, I would be lawyering up at some point in the not too distant future.“

Hou is the second of Liu’s fundraisers to be arrested. Another fundraiser, Xing Wu Pan, was arrested in November, leading some experts to question Liu’s future.

The arrests come as part of an ongoing FBI probe into Liu’s campaign finances. While the FBI wouldn’t comment as to whether the comptroller himself was the subject of the investigation, Muzzio said Liu is a target.

“The comptroller is obviously in trouble,” said Muzzio. “The circle around him is getting smaller and smaller.”

Muzzio says Liu, a onetime mayoral contender, ought to prepare for upcoming legal troubles, rather than the 2013 race.

But Liu has given no signs of abandoning his hope of one day succeeding Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and is keeping his distance from the controversy.

“I am stunned by this news about Jenny Hou. These accusations against her are uncharacteristic and unexpected,” Liu said today. “Jenny is a smart, hardworking person who I hope will be treated fairly.”

Christina Greer, a professor of political science at Fordham University, was more optimistic about Liu’s future.

“If he can redeem himself, I don’t think it’s a nail in the coffin,” Greer said.

The real uphill battle, Greer said, would be winning back the public’s trust. “There is a constant nagging question about his trustworthiness,” Greer said. “Not just with his behavior, but with the people he surrounds himself with.”

When asked whether Liu was considering stepping down from his post as comptroller or stepping out of the mayoral race, George Arzt, Liu’s campaign spokesman, rebuked the suggestions, saying “That’s ridiculous!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

For more local news, follow Emily Anne Epstein on Twitter @EmilyAEpstein.



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