Sheldon Silver Still Supported in Chinatown

Sheldon Silver attending the 43rd anniversary of the Open Door senior center. The third from the left in the back row is Pauline Ng (Photo by Yingzi Yin via World Journal)

Sheldon Silver attending the 43rd anniversary of the Open Door senior center. The third from the left in the back row is Pauline Ng (Photo by Yingzi Yin via World Journal)

When Sheldon Silver was found guilty on all seven counts of corruption charges on Nov. 30, many people in Chinatown, part of his Assembly district, were shocked. Still, they showed more sympathy than anger. Also, the Assembly seat that was immediately vacant after Silver’s conviction became an immediate focus. Many people think this is a good opportunity for the district to get a Chinese representative in the Assembly. Both Sing Tao Daily and the World Journal published several related stories on Dec 1st. Here are some excerpts.

In a story in the World Journal, some community members told reporter Yingzi Yin they won’t forget what Silver has done to help Chinatown:   

Eric Ng, president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) said that before he became a politician, Silver and his family ran a locksmith shop on Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side. Ng himself opened his business on Ludlow Street in 1982. He got to know Silver on Ludlow more than 20 years ago.

Ng said Silver understands the Chinese community. He attends the traditional Lunar New Year gathering at CCBA every year. And this year, Silver even joined community members at the Sun Yat-Sen Hall at CCBA at the event on Feb. 19 to welcome the arrival of the Year of Ram. Ng thinks this shows how much Silver cares about the Chinese community.

Pauline Ng, director of the Open Door senior center affiliated with the Chinese Planning Council (CPC), said she has been working for CPC since 1969, and has met numerous elected officials since then.  She is especially impressed by Silver’s attentiveness to Chinatown because he listened carefully to the views of people in the community on education, affordable housing, senior services, transportation and other issues.

“I still remember what Silver said to me many years ago: ‘The Chinese are silent. They don’t know how to fight for their own rights. And I cannot just let it be,’” Ng said.

She also said that years ago when the Open Door senior center was still on Chrystie Street, the Grand Street subway station only had one entrance. It was very inconvenient for the seniors. Silver visited the center several times to ask the seniors for their ideas about adding entrances. The construction was scheduled to be finished in four years, but Silver pushed for it to be finished within a year. “The law is the law. Everyone has to respect it. But we Chinese have a saying: ‘When you drink the water, think where it comes from.’ We won’t forget what Silver had done for us,” Ng said.

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In a story in Sing Tao Daily chief reporter Lotus Chau quoted community political activist Virginia Kee as saying: “Silver is still a good friend of the Chinese. When we needed him, he helped us…I don’t know much of his corruption case. But I know he treats Chinatown very well.”

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In another story, Chau explains why Silver is so close to Chinatown:

Before he became the speaker, Silver indeed didn’t show much interest in Chinatown because there weren’t many people voting here. However, things started to change after the 1990 redistricting. Not only was most of Chinatown put in his district, but also more Chinese, including Virginia Kee, Margaret Chin, Jennifer Foong C. Lim and Rocky Chin, came out to run for City Council. This made Silver realize it was important to make Chinatown a political ally.

When Kee lost her campaign, Silver worked with her to establish the United Democratic Organization, the only democratic club in Chinatown which became Silver’s political base here. Kee and Silver maintain their friendship to this day.

Over the past 20 years, Silver has been a frequent visitor to Chinatown. As a powerful politician, he easily brought more funding to Chinatown. So the Chinese like him very much. After the plan for Seward Park Urban Renewal Area was approved in 2012 and the Essex Crossing part of it unveiled in 2013, the mainstream media criticized Silver for letting the land sit there for 40 years to serve his own interests. But in Chinatown people cheered for the progress.

Although Silver has won reelection repeatedly, in recent years he often had Chinese contenders eying his seat. These contenders include Menglong Zhu, Danniel Maio and Wave Chen, all Republicans who were not able to win. But they were part of the reason that Silver remained active in Chinatown.

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As a convicted criminal, Silver immediately lost his qualification to be an assembly member by law. Who will fill the seat? The Chinese media found a few possible candidates who already set their eyes on it. In a story in Sing Tao Daily reporter Rong Xiaoqing writes:

Veteran Democratic political consultant George Arzt said Silver’s case may not single-handedly change the way Albany operates. But it will definitely make elected officials think, and prompt them to be careful of their behavior. What’s more interesting now is who will run for Silver’s seat. Arzt said one non-Chinese candidate has already contacted him for advice. But he said: “That seat will go to a Chinese, or at least an Asian candidate for sure.”

Among political activists in this district, the current district leader Paul Newell is the only one who made his interest crystal clear. Newell, who challenged Silver but lost in the 2008 election, said he has formed an advisory committee, and is “seriously considering a run.” Newell said he is not against Silver personally. “Silver has done a lot for the district. But now it is time for the voters to put the past aside and rebuild our leadership,” Newell said.

Another possibly candidate, current district leader Jenifer Rajkumar, said it is time to work together to replace the culture of corruption in Albany with a culture of service, and “I look forward to being a part of this movement in any way.” As for whether she’ll run for Silver’s office, Rajkumar said: “It’s premature to talk about this.”

Possible Chinese candidates Gigi Li and Don Lee didn’t reply by press time.

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In a story in the World Journal, reporter Mengzi Gao writes:

Eddie Chiu, counselor of the Lin Sing Association who has helped many political candidates campaign in Chinatown, said four people have visited him and showed interest in Silver’s seat, including Chinese and non-Chinese. “They are all young people, and all are passionate about community service,” said Chiu. He said he won’t base his choice along lines. “I won’t support a candidate only because he or she is Chinese. I support candidates who really put the interest of Chinese in their minds,” said Chiu.

Justin Yu, a district leader in Chinatown, said some Democrats have already shown interest in the seat. If the Chinese can unite, choose a candidate they like and mobilize the voters, it is possible that we can elect the first Chinese Assembly member in this district. “It is a critical time now. But it also means opportunity. I hope Chinese Democrats can work together to select the best candidate for the community,” he said.

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