Split on Candidates, Split on Political Power?

The Chinese community is divided over Public Advocate candidates Daniel Squadron and Letitia James, as often happens when there is no Chinese candidate in a race. Sing Tao Daily asks if this split weakens the community's political prowess. (Photo by Jehangir Khattak/Voices of NY)

The Chinese community is divided over public advocate candidates Daniel Squadron and Letitia James. Sing Tao Daily asks if this split weakens the community’s political prowess. (Photo by Jehangir Khattak/Voices of NY)

In Tuesday’s runoff race for public advocate, not only are two candidates battling for votes but also the Chinese community seems to be squaring off – against one another. Last week, Comptroller John Liu, accompanied by some community leaders, announced his endorsement of one of the candidates at Chatham Square in Chinatown. Meanwhile, more than 30 community leaders and an elected official announced their endorsement of the other candidate. How would a split community affect the strength of its political power? The answers vary depending on who you ask.

The runoff between the two public advocate candidates, State Sen. Daniel Squadron and City Councilwoman Letitia James, will be held Tuesday. Although Public Advocate is not a hot position and the election is not attracting much attention, it is an opportunity for the Chinese community to participate in politics and show its power. But the battle between Squadron and James is a hard call, which means community leaders have to make a difficult choice.

On September 26, when Liu announced his endorsement of James, many community leaders were there in support. At the same time, Squadron’s campaign issued a statement announcing more than 30 Chinese community leaders, including Councilwoman Margaret Chin; Virginia Kee, president emeritus of the United Democratic Organization; Peter Tu, executive director of Flushing Chinese Business Association; Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership; Eddie Chiu, director of Lin Sing Association, and several former presidents of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association have endorsed Squadron. Neither side seemed likely to give in.

This is not the first time the Chinese community has been split on different candidates. Although the community had been united behind Liu in the mayoral election, in other positions when there is no Chinese candidate, community leaders are more likely to be split. For example, in the comptroller’s race, the Lin Sing Association endorsed former Gov. Eliot Spitzer early in the race. A few days later, Kee and many other community leaders held an event at Chatham Square to endorse Spitzer’s opponent, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

For a community which doesn’t produce a large number of votes, does it gain or lose from the different political stances of its community leaders? The answers are as diverse as the political views presented.

Liu said the Chinese community is big enough to accommodate different opinions. He doesn’t think this will make the mainstream consider the political power of the community as less relevant. “The most important thing is to get everyone out to vote. No matter who you vote for, as long as we all vote, we can show our power. The ballots count,” he said.

Chiu of Lin Sing thought endorsing different candidates will inevitably dilute the political power of the community, but “what you can do?” he said. “Everyone has his or her own opinion and interest. And they neutralize one another’s impacts.”

Political consultant George Arzt said uniting behind one candidate is not a good thing for any community because it would make the candidate take its support for granted and make other candidates give up on the community. “This is not a matter of diluting the votes. Every candidate should have the interests of all the communities in mind, and fight hard to gain the support of communities. For the Asian community, the growing population and votes is getting the community more respect.”

John Mollenkopf, director of the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center and professor of political science and sociology, said the split of a community on endorsements indeed mirrors the general picture of a sharply competitive election. But to the community, “If you cannot unite behind one candidate, it will be harder to make changes,” he said.

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