Liu runs left of de Blasio, even when his audience doesn’t want to hear it

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Liu, with Rudin over his shoulder. (Reid Pillifant)
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"In my humble opinion, we've got to stop holding ourselves hostage to the idea that we can't make policies that piss off the rich people or drive big corporations away," John Liu told an audience of such people at an Association for a Better New York breakfast at the Roosevelt Hotel.

The organization is made up primarily of the kind of business and real estate executives who are already bemoaning the loss of Michael Bloomberg, and Liu's speech won't have done anything to quell their fears about what might come next.

"The chasm between Park Avenue in Manhattan and Fulton Street in the Bed-Stuy section of Brooklyn is seemingly insurmountable," Liu said.

A few months ago, public advocate Bill de Blasio unveiled a proposal to raise taxes on the rich in his speech to ABNY, which he referred to at the time as the "lion's den" (and which appears to be becoming something of a general foil for the Democratic candidates). Money raised by de Blasio's tax was to be used to pay for pre-kindergarten education, a move that put him to the left of Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

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Liu, in a move that is emblematic of his candidacy, went further than de Blasio did, calling for more taxes on the wealthy earners in the audience in order to pay for universal pre-K and also pre-school for every three-year-old too.

It was all part of what he called his "People's Budget," which includes raising taxes on wealthy people, businesses, insurance companies, Madison Square Garden and many individuals and entities, along with tolls on the Harlem and East Rivers for non-residents, in order to expand early-childhood education, extend library hours, hire 5,000 new police officers and create 100,000 units of affordable housing.

Liu insisted those goals are realistic, and offhandedly dispensed with the usual concerns about what effect that might have on the city's wealthy residents.

"This idea that well, everybody's going to leave New York City, I don't think--you're not going to leave, Bill," Liu said to Bill Rudin, the association's famously civic-minded president and head of a big New York real estate family, who had joined him on stage to moderate the question-and-answer session.

"My tenants will," Rudin replied.

"You're not going to leave," Liu scoffed.

The question-and-answer portion amounted to just one question from the crowd, plus one from Rudin, and the room was noticeably quiet for the duration of Liu's remarks. (New York Times reporter David Chen compared it to Amtrak's quiet car.)

His jokes (about having two left feet, except when it comes to the "budget dance," and about his parents adopting all the Kennedy first names) failed to elicit even a groan, much less a laugh.

Asked afterward about the crowd reaction, Liu said he was simply telling the "hard truth" about the city's budget.

"And you know, I think a lot of these people, I think a lot of the people here don't necessarily appreciate my call for people making half a million dollars or more a year paying a little bit more in city income tax, while giving the other 99 percent of New Yorkers a tax reduction," he said. "But it has to be said, and if I had my druthers I would fully implement that kind of policy. We need to have a progressive tax system here in New York City."

Liu's left-leaning approach has kept him in the conversation among mayoral contenders, in a campaign that once seemed like it might be sunk by the indictment of a top donor and a campaign aide for orchestrating straw donations. The leftward tack also puts pressure on liberal groups and labor unions that purport to be looking for the most progressive candidate in the field.

Liu has also made a point of attending every conceivable event on the campaign trail, and performing with a particular passion at the myriad mayoral forums.

After he was done with the press at ABNY, one reporter asked if he had another five forums to attend today.

"No, no, I wish we had five," he said, "but we only have three today."