Gigi Li Off the Ballot for District Leader

Gigi Li with her supporters at a fundraising event in Chinatown. (Photo by Rong Xiaoqing via Sing Tao Daily)

Gigi Li with her supporters at a fundraising event in Chinatown. (Photo by Rong Xiaoqing via Sing Tao Daily)

Gigi Li, the chair of Community Board 3 in Chinatown who had been running for district leader for Assembly District 65, Part C, lost her qualification as a candidate after a Board of Elections hearing on July 29 confirmed that she didn’t get enough petitions. Li said she would not appeal.

The BOE held the hearing on designating petitions for candidates in Brooklyn and Manhattan to decide whether challenges proposed against their petitions can be approved. Jenifer Rajkumar, the incumbent district leader and Li’s opponent, arrived early with her lawyer, former state Sen. Martin Connor. But Li did not show up, and her lawyer left before her case was heard. So the hearing on Li’s case lasted for less than one minute before the commissioners of the BOE decided the number of petitions Li collected was under the 500 threshold for district leader candidates and therefore, she is no longer qualified to run.

Connor said Li filed 1,515 petitions while Rajkumar filed 2,500. But Li’s team filed a challenge against Rajkumar’s petition first. This pushed the Rajkumar team to fight back and knock down the number of Li’s petitions to 470 for reasons like “the petitioner doesn’t live in the district” or “the petitioner is not a registered voter.”

Georgette Fleischer and Lora Tenenbaum, the two voters from Rajkumar’s team who filed challenges against Li’s petitions, also filed a lawsuit to the New York State Supreme Court accusing Li of petition fraud. One of the allegations in the lawsuit is that a person who signed as a witness of the petitions didn’t witness all the petitions. And this witness happens to be a staff member of Council member Margaret Chin’s office.

The procedure allows Li to appeal to the court within three days. But Li issued a statement in the afternoon of July 29 announcing she has decided to withdraw. “I learned today that I did not garner the necessary signatures to qualify for the ballot. I want to be clear that the accusations of fraud are false and played no role in my withdrawal,” Li said in the statement.

Jenifer Rajkumar with her lawyer former state Sen. Martin Connor. (Photo by Rong Xiaoqing via Sing Tao Daily)

Jenifer Rajkumar with her lawyer former state Sen. Martin Connor. (Photo by Rong Xiaoqing via Sing Tao Daily)

Li being disqualified made many of her supporters shocked and disappointed. Some said this is her first attempt to run for an elected political position (community board chairs are named by the borough presidents). If she can learn some lessons, it will help her in future campaigns. But others who understand the election system better think that during this campaign Li showed her weaknesses. They question whether her personality is at odds with the requirements of political gamesmanship.

Although most of the district where she ran is not within the border of Chinatown, Li got a lot of support here. A fundraising event held for her in June at Jing Fong Restaurant attracted more than a hundred people including many community leaders such as Yutian Lee, president of the Lee Family Association, and Ho Kew Lee, a senior councilor of the organization where Li is a member, York Chan and Justin Yu, former presidents of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, Wellington Chen, executive director of Chinatown Partnership and Council member Chin. They all wished Li good luck.

When he learned Li was off the ballot, Ho Kew Lee said that as a young person, Li may not have enough experience in campaigning yet. But she can always come back in the future. And if Li runs again “of course, we’ll still support her,” said Lee.

But Mr. Wong, a supporter who donated to Li’s campaign, is not as optimistic. He said Li is a good servant of the community. But anyone who runs for a public position with the mentality of a social worker is destined to lose. “Elections are tough wars. You have to know how to thwart your opponent in any way within the boundary of law. But Li doesn’t seem to know how to do this,” he said. Wong thinks that if Li doesn’t learn campaign strategies, she may not have a good chance to win future elections.

Michael Dillon, a political consultant who is running for district leader in District 76 on the Upper East Side, said it is important to run with a partner in the elections for district leader. The male and female district leader candidates can help each other and watch each other’s back, increasing the chance of winning. He said in Li’s district, her opponent Rajkumar has been running with Paul Newell, a candidate for the male district leader position. But Li had not formed a team, which put her at a disadvantage.

Chin, who has been supporting Li from the beginning, said she hopes Li will run again in the future and she will keep supporting young Asians running for public positions. Chin declined to comment on the lawsuit concerning her staff member.

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