Niou Vows to Come Back in September

Yuh-Line Niou addressing supporters after her defeat April 19 in the special election to fill Sheldon Silver's seat (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

Yuh-Line Niou addressing supporters after her defeat April 19 in the special election to fill Sheldon Silver’s seat. (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

In the special election on April 19 for the Assembly District 65 seat vacated by disgraced former Speaker Sheldon Silver, Yuh-Line Niou, the candidate of the Working Families Party, lost by six percentage points to Alice Cancel, the Democratic candidate. But Niou vowed she will come back in September’s primary, aiming for the new term. Niou’s supporters were disappointed by the result. Some of them blamed Lester Chang, the Republican Party candidate, who is also Chinese like Niou, for diverting ballots from Chinese voters and causing Niou’s loss. Some politicians who support Niou said the current election system is unfair and needs reform.

At 8 o’clock on the night of April 19, Niou’s supporters started gathering at the Joy Luck Seafood Restaurant where she planned to hold the after-party. When the polls closed at 9 p.m., many people stood around checking the ballot count. When, at some moments, there seemed to be a tie between Niou and Cancel, it seems that Niou’s supporters were holding their breath. And when 90 percent of the ballots had been counted and Niou was behind Cancel by seven percentage points, her supporters realized there was no hope. Their faces looked solemn.

When the winner was announced at about 10:30 p.m., Niou walked into the restaurant accompanied by Assembly member Ron Kim and former Comptroller John Liu amid thundering cheers and applause. “We’ve done our best,” she told her supporters.

Niou said as a candidate of a small party, she had already made history by getting voting results so close to those of the candidate of a big party. She said this was not the end but the beginning. “I’ll start my campaign tomorrow for the September primary,” she said.

Many supporters of Niou blamed Chang for her loss. “Chang was only a tool,” said Virginia Kee, the founder of the United Democratic Organization (UDO) in Chinatown, a club that endorsed Niou. “The Republican Party used him to divert ballots from the Chinese voters and thwart our candidate.”

Checking the results on April 19 (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

Checking the results on April 19 (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

“Lester ‘won’ because he successfully grabbed the ballots that should have belonged to Yuh-Line,” lamented Justin Yu, a member of the Chinatown UDO.

Gangyong Wang, chairman of the Fuzhou United Friendship Association, agreed. “We Chinese are a minority in this country,” he said. “The only way we can get our political power is to be united and focus our ballots on one candidate.”

Rep. Grace Meng agreed Chang might have diverted the Chinese votes from Niou. But she thought there is no proper solution. “America is a democratic country. Everyone has the right to run. It’s not realistic to ask the Chinese community to come up with only one candidate,” she said.

But Meng pointed out the current election system has some flaws. For example, Niou, although a Democrat, was not allowed to run as the Democratic candidate. And voters who want to switch their party membership in order to support a candidate in a primary have to do so a year before Election Day. Meng called for New York state to follow the suit of many other states to modernize its election system including allowing same-day voter registration, early voting and mail-in voting to make the system fairer and more efficient.

Bill Lipton, director of New York State Working Families Party, said Niou was an excellent candidate. But he stop short of promising to have her as the party’s candidate again in the next election. “We have to go through our process,” he said. Lipton also said the U.S. should adopt the system of proportional representation like some other countries so smaller parties would have a fairer chance in the election.

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