BY STEVEN J. FERRARI
It was supposed to be an opportunity for the candidates in the State Senate primary for District 11 to discuss their stance on issues Tuesday night. But a group of protestors had other plans.
Before the moderator could begin to ask questions of candidate John Liu, Chinese protestors rolled out a large sign, declaring “Arrest John Liu to Prevent his further Harm to the U.S.” The act set off a tumultuous argument between the protestors, Liu supporters and the forum moderators.
The protests caused the forum, which had already heard from incumbent State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), to screech to a halt until security could escort the protestors out of the ballroom at the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel in Flushing.
Once order was restored after about 15 minutes, Liu noted that he believed the protestors were part of the Falun Gong spiritual practice, who believe Liu to be a Communist spy for China.
“They are certainly entitled to voice their opinions,” Liu said as he took the dais.
During a session with reporters after the event, Liu said he was not surprised by the act, or thrown off by the accusations made by protestors.
“These are my friends,” Liu said jokingly. “They’ve been following me around for 10 years.”
Liu left the hotel flanked by men wearing leather vests that identified them as members of IBEW Local 3, a union that has backed Liu in his bid for the State Senate.
Liu’s troubles with the Falun Gong group date back to a 2008 incident where practitioners were attacked by mobs that were allegedly organized by the Chinese embassy. Liu, then a City Councilman representing Flushing, refused to meet with Falun Gong members after the attacks, but did meet with those who police charged with assault.
Fu Yuxia, a protestor at Tuesday’s forum who did not identify herself as a member of Falun Gong, said through a translator that she came to the event to “expose John Liu as working for the Chinese embassy.”
Yuxia said she came to the U.S. in 2012 to escape persecution. She attended the forum in a neck brace, claiming that she suffered the same kind of violent attack last month in the U.S. from the Chinese embassy as she did in her homeland.
“I did not expect in this free land, in the U.S. to have the same kind of treatment,” she said.
Outside of the acts of the protestors, the candidate forum, organized by the MinKwon Center for Community Action along with other partners, gave Avella, Liu and Green Party candidate Paul Gilman a chance to respond to questions involving campaign finance reform, the DREAM Act, rent and eviction protections and worker protections.
While Gilman does not have a Green Party challenger in September, Liu and Avella will face off in the Democratic primary on Sept. 9. Both Democratic candidates stressed that the main issues in the race were passing the DREAM Act, passing women’s equality and enacting campaign finance reform.
While Liu continued his attack on Avella’s recent joining of the Independent Democratic Conference as a betrayal of Democratic voters, Avella stressed that he had been at the forefront of pushing for the issues that seemed to be important to both he and Liu. Avella noted that he had been a co-sponsor of bills pushing for the DREAM Act and for campaign finance reform.
Avella did not mention or allude to his challenger at all during his portion of the forum. When asked what needed to be done in order to get some of these measures passed, he said that voters needed to elect more Democrats who supported these issues.
“The problem is we have Republicans and some Democrats who will not vote for those bills,” Avella said. “Those people need to be replaced.”
Avella’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment about the protest, which occurred after the Senator had left the hotel.
Reach Steven J. Ferrari at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 122, firstname.lastname@example.org or @stevenferrari.