Are John Liu and His Chinese Opponents Ready to Work Together?

John Liu victorious on Election Day. (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

The following translation is a combination and condensation of two stories by Rong Xiaoqing that appeared in Sing Tao Daily on the victory of John Liu for the 11th Senate District seat and where things stand within the politically-split Chinese community.

John Liu won the election in Senate district 11, becoming the first Asian-American senator in New York State. [Editor’s note: He will be joined by Indian-American candidate Kevin Thomas who beat incumbent Kemp Hannon for the district 6 seat in Nassau County.] But, in an unprecedented fashion, the Chinese community was divided during the campaign, as hundreds of Chinese, for the first time since Liu ran for the City Council in 2001, turned their back on him and supported his opponent, incumbent Tony Avella. Now, following Liu’s win, can the division be mended? After talking to Liu and his Chinese critics, the answer seems to be “yes.”

The Chinese who gave up on Liu were mainly concerned about his “true blue” doctrines, especially his public support of a holistic admission policy for specialized high schools when he was the city comptroller. But David Lee, vice president of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York, one of the first community organizations that reached out to Avella about the specialized high school reform issue and campaigned for him from the beginning to the end, said the fight against Liu is over, and the organization would like to work with him now.

Lee said the conflicts between the organization and Liu were only about different opinions, and the organization would like to work with any elected officials to keep the SHSAT, the test whose score the specialized high schools rely on solely to make their admissions decisions.  “The good thing about American-style democracy is that people holding different views won’t hold personal grudges against one another,” said Lee. “This is very different from the Chinese culture.”

Lee said that during the campaign, Liu had made it clear that he is against Mayor de Blasio’s plan of abandoning the test. And he also believes that as a public official, Liu’s heart is big enough to accommodate the Chinese Avella supporters. And considering Liu might be busy at the beginning of his term, Lee said the organization would like to reach out to him rather than waiting for him to extend an olive branch. Lee also noted that the organization had never met with Liu during the election, and that was a lesson it should learn. “In the future, Chinese voters should contact all candidates in the early stage and learn about their views before we decide who to support,” Lee said.

Donghui Zang, a Forest Hills resident and a leading activist in the fight against the opening of a medical marijuana dispensary in the neighborhood, had spent a lot of time campaigning for Avella as well as the Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro and the Republican incumbent state senator Marty Golden in district 22. Although none of the candidates won, Zang said by participating in the campaigning, Chinese voters have made their opposition against the specialized high school reform, legalizing recreational marijuana and community-based jails heard. “This is our biggest victory,” Zang said.

As for the division caused by the battle between Liu and Avella, Zang said Chinese Avella supporters connected with one another in some WeChat groups based on their common interest in certain issues rather than loyalty to a certain party or candidate. If necessary, they wouldn’t mind working with Liu in the future to push their agenda. “No matter who wins the seat, we’d like to work with him,” Zang said.

Liu is also ready to open his door. When asked at the post-election party on election night about the division within the community, Liu, who attributed his victory to the “true blue” waves, said he doesn’t agree that the “true blue” doctrines are at odds with the views of the Chinese community. “Every community has people who support the Republicans and people who support the Democrats,” said Liu. “The division is only because of different views. It will mend after the election. I would like to work with anyone.”

Liu’s supporters also hope he can stick to his words. “Chinese are minorities in this country, so staying united is very important. As an elected official, John has the responsibility to unite the community,” said Hugh Mo, former NYPD deputy commissioner of trials. “I believe John has the leadership and vision to mend the division of our community,” said Weiping Chen of the Gee How Oak Tin Association.

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