Margaret Chin Battles for Re-election

Margaret Chin (center) at a meeting at Sing Tao Daily with, from the left, Rick Ho of Sing Tao East Coast, Virginia Kee of the United Democratic Organization, Robin Mui of Sing Tao America, and Jenny Low of the United Democratic Organization. (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

Margaret Chin, the incumbent City Council member of District 1, visited Sing Tao Daily to seek the paper’s endorsement on Aug. 3. During the meeting, Chin said her track record of helping Chinatown as well as the diverse communities in her district make her confident about her re-election. And when asked whether she plans to run for higher public office four years later, Chin didn’t say no. Virginia Kee and Jenny Low, leaders from the United Democratic Organization and Chin’s supporters, and Robin Mui, chief executive officer of Sing Tao America, Rick Ho, general manager of Sing Tao East Coast, and Lotus Chau, chief reporter of Sing Tao New York, were present at the meeting.

[Editor’s note: Democrats running against Chin in the primary race are Aaron Foldenauer, Dashia Imperiale, and Christopher Marte. Bryan Jung is unopposed as the Republican candidate for the seat.]

Growing up in Chinatown where her parents were restaurant and garment workers, Chin started to do community service in the neighborhood when she was in college. Later she joined Asian Americans for Equality to work on housing rights. She was elected in 2009 after four failed attempts to become the first Chinese council member representing Chinatown in the century-long history of the neighborhood, and won re-election in 2013.

Chin said it has not been an easy road for her. A few months after her first election, Chinatown suffered the devastating Grand Street fire when two apartment buildings on the street were damaged and more than 60 families lost their homes. Chin, a freshman in the City Council worked day and night to find resources to help the tenants. In her first term, then Mayor Michael Bloomberg slashed the city’s social services budget, and Chin fought shoulder to shoulder with community advocates to keep key services.

Then, in her second term, there was the Peter Liang case that rattled the entire Chinese community. Chin, who publicly supported the indictment of the Chinese-American cop who accidentally shot dead unarmed African-American citizen Akai Gurley, was called by many in her own community a “traitor.”

Chin still seemed heavy hearted when talking about the Liang case today. “Some people said I didn’t care about the Chinese community. But I love my community,” said Chin. “When he was convicted, I felt very sad. I felt for Liang’s mother. I convinced 15 council members to sign the letter to the judge to ask for leniency in Liang’s sentence.”

In her second term, Chin was appointed chair of the City Council’s Committee on Aging. After years of persistent effort, she helped establish a baseline of $23 million additional funds for aging services in the city’s budget this year, a breakthrough that was celebrated by services organizations and seniors all over the city. But also during this term, several high-rise luxury buildings under construction or planned to be built along the East River on the Lower East Side made Chin a “public enemy” in the eyes of many community members who have been fighting against gentrification.

Chin said among the few buildings, the one under construction on the land where a Pathmark supermarket was located is not her fault. The building was approved without going through the City Council for a vote, and she had no way to interfere. The city was only able to set a mandate for affordable units with the developer when they applied to get the tax benefits. “People say I approved the building. That’s not true,” Chin said.

As for the buildings that are proposed to be built at Two Bridges, Chin said it’s still possible for the community to get more benefits from them. She is still fighting with the borough president’s office and the community to persuade the Department of City Planning to require the developers to go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) so that the City Council can have a say on, at least, the mandatory affordable units the developers have to offer to the community. Chin said they are ready to file a lawsuit if City Planning declines. “Many people thought they are done deals. They are not,” Chin said.

[Editor’s note: Land use issues have been controversial in Chinatown for years and concerns have escalated in this election year. Sing Tao Daily has reported on this in a previous story. The English version was published by Open City.]

What has also put Chin at a disadvantage in her re-election campaign is her close relationship with Mayor de Blasio. As the mayor is not particularly popular in the Chinese community, some people who don’t like the mayor make Chin into a scapegoat. “It’s important to have a good relationship with the administration. But I make sure I let the mayor know when I disagree with him. I think people saw this in the Town Hall meeting,” said Chin, referring to a meeting she hosted together with the mayor in June in Chinatown at which the council member blasted the mayor on issues such as the deal on Rivington House.

If she gets to serve a third term, will she be eying a higher position in politics four years later? “Everything is open. But I won’t leave the city. I’ll find some new adventure in the city,” Chin said.


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