Yuh-Line Niou in Albany

Yuh-Line Niou at a budget hearing on Feb. 15. (Photo via @yuhline/Twitter)

When Yuh-Line Niou headed to Albany as the new Assembly member for the 65th District in Lower Manhattan, she had big shoes to fill – she would be taking over the seat held by disgraced Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for 40 years and representing a constituency that, in her words, “literally had the most service and then almost no service for a period of time.”

In February, Gotham Gazette’s Rachel Silberstein caught up with Niou to talk about being the newcomer for the prominent district.

On top of the challenges that come with taking over the former seat of Sheldon Silver, she faces the additional pressures coming from Washington, D.C., prompting Gotham Gazette to ask: “How has the Trump administration shaped your priorities?”

That’s a really big question. One of the things that I’m lucky enough to be a part of, is being part of ‘the people’s budget,’ I’m one of the legislators who is helping to put it together — and that’s the document that the Black, Hispanic, Asian and Puerto Rican Caucus put together. It’s really exciting. We get to talk a lot about the things I just mentioned, with criminal justice reform, and immigrant rights and women’s rights. And we get to talk a lot about what we, as a caucus, would like to focus on. The other budgets don’t necessarily make those things a priority, so at least it’s a document for folks who believe in those things to have a voice. It’s a very exciting project and I’m really honored to be a part of it.

One of the pieces — because of the weird climate — one of the things I got to speak up on, was stopping data registries, and I think that’s really important because I know the city is going through some stuff with the [IDNYC (municipal identification card)] program. We are all trying do our best to look at what’s happening, and then do really good preparation to be a good buffer and good representation of our district.

It was only last year that Niou had been working for Assembly member Ron Kim of Flushing. Now, as the first Asian-American state legislator representing Manhattan, she joins her former boss as the only Asian-American officials at the state level. When asked if there is “a lot of pressure to be a voice for an entire ethnic group,” Niou responds:

I don’t get tired of the question, by the way. I think it’s sad that we have to keep asking the question more than anything. Because, I think that you are right, absolutely, we are the most underrepresented minority in New York State and the most rapidly growing as well in our state. We are at least 10 percent of the population in our state and we definitely don’t even have 1 percent of representation on a state level. That’s shocking, for sure. I think it’s upsetting in the sense that, ‘Oh, I can’t believe I am the first on a state level,’ because I didn’t think that that was still a thing, but unfortunately, it is. I think it’s very important to represent my whole district, but it is also a community that grew together, and everybody is supportive of one another. That’s why it’s such an incredible district.

Have there been any surprising moments so far for Niou? Go to Gotham Gazette to read the full interview.

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