Posted on July 2, 2008
When John Liu moves on from his City Council seat in 2009, he will leave behind a new political landscape for future Asian-American politicians in Queens and beyond.
The Flushing Democrat, who chaired the powerful transportation committee during his two terms, is the first Asian American elected to the City Council. He is expected to seek citywide office – possibly controller or even mayor – after being forced out by term limits.
Although his seat won’t be open for a year, who will succeed him already is the subject of much local debate. In Flushing, one of the city’s most heavily Asian communities, many residents would like to see the office remain in Asian American hands. But so far, only one candidate has declared — Constantine Kavadas, a Greek-American political novice who is working to persuade the neighborhood’s Asian voters that he can represent them.
Liu Paves Way
“When you walk down the street (in Flushing), it’s 60 percent Asian American,” said 23-year-old Ran Chen, a Flushing resident who would like to see an Asian American succeed Liu. “They understand our needs and our culture. For Flushing, it’s a very good thing.”
Chen, manager of the Zoni Language Center on Flushing’s bustling Main Street, read that Liu may run for mayor in the “World Journal,” a Chinese-language newspaper, and he plans to donate to his campaign.
“(Liu) is very good, he’s excellent,” said Chen. “Every day I take the commuter bus, and he’s the one that built the station for it.”
Liu’s election in 2000 paved the way for other Asian Americans to run for statewide office.
“More and more it proves that Asians are American,” said state Assemblymember Ellen Young of Flushing, the first Asian-American woman to serve in the New York legislation. “(John Liu and I) both have proved that we can be good legislators.”
Young, a Taiwanese immigrant, followed Jimmy Meng, who became the first Asian American elected to the legislature in 2004. Meng, a businessman, stepped down from his seat due to health problems. In 2006, Young won Meng’s seat – with Liu’s support.
Young, who sponsored four bills that turned into state law, is proud of her two years in the Assembly, calling them “history in the making.”
“Never before has an Asian American lawmaker seen their bills signed into law in New York,” said Young.
Despite the achievements of Young and Liu, so far no Asian Americans have announced candidacy for Liu’s slot.
A Greek Newcomer
”At this time, it’s a little bit early,” said Young.
It’s not too early, though, for Kavadas, owner of a food distribution business and a Flushing resident for all of his 26 years.
The son of Greek immigrants, Kavadas said he has been knocking on doors and visiting Asian churches for months. He cited downzoning as an important issue to Asian Americans in Flushing, many of whom feel the restrictions unfairly target Asian businesses.
“I am very well-versed with the Asian community in Flushing,” said Kavadas. “I have met literally hundreds of them.”
Kavadas acknowledges he is new to politics but calls himself a quick study, and said he appreciates the contributions Asian Americans make to Flushing.
“Look at the public school grades in this district — it is ridiculous the good grades that they get — the district is mostly a majority of Asians, and the grades are like out of this world,” Kavadas said. “It goes back to the parents: the whole country can learn from them. They are focused on their kids and their grades – the main thing is school, school, school.”
Meanwhile, Grace Meng, daughter of Jimmy Meng, is mulling a run for Liu’s seat.
“It’s definitely crossed my mind,” she said. “I, too, haven’t made any final decisions yet.”
Although some say it’s early, 82 candidates citywide have declared their candidacy for 2009 City Council races. In District 19, next to Flushing, four candidates already are running.
Flushing’s Asian population will be an important constituency in the 2009 election, no matter who the candidates.
Young, though, said she doesn’t necessarily prefer that an Asian American replace Liu.
“I would like to see any outstanding [public servant] – not based on their race and gender — take that seat,” Young said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re young or old, it doesn’t matter if they’re male or female, it doesn’t matter if they’re Asian or non-Asian.” [New York City News Service, May 2008]