Chinese Community Mourns the Passing of a Controversial Lion

Eddie Chiu at left (photo via Sing Tao Daily)

[Editor’s note: Sing Tao Daily published several articles about the death of community leader Eddie Chiu. Below is a roundup of excerpts from the paper’s coverage.]

Eddie Chiu, former chair and counselor of Lin Sing Association, a major community-based organization in Chinatown, passed away at his home on Oct. 9, after a long battle with cancer. He was 69. His family, which wanted to remain low-key, buried him in a cemetery in New Jersey. But when the news reached the community on Oct. 12, many people were overcome with sadness. One community member said of Chiu, a significant, although controversial, figure: “There won’t likely to be another person like him in Chinatown in the next decade.” Chiu’s passing has left a void in the community.

After moving to the U.S. from Hong Kong in 1980, Chiu started out in the real estate industry, and then opened restaurants on Division and Grand streets in Chinatown. The Red Ruby Tea House he opened in 1992 on Division Street was one of the favorites for many older generation Chinese immigrants. He was also a board member of the United Orient Bank from 2003 until 2009, when he retired after being diagnosed with cancer.

After 9/11, Chiu shut his restaurants and spent most of his time running Lin Sing, where he was president and then advisor – but more like a full-time volunteer.

During his reign, Lin Sing’s clout in the Chinese community grew quickly. Many Chinese immigrants would go to Lin Sing to seek help when they were facing troubles. Chiu opened his door and helped everyone from seniors who didn’t understand English and asked him to read the mail from government agencies to the families of Wen Hui Ruan, a Chinese senior beaten to death in the East Village in 2015 and Peter Liang, the former police officer who, while on patrol in November 2014, accidentally shot dead innocent African American Akai Gurley.

Jerry Shiao, president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, said that in 2007, when an 83-year-old Taiwanese veteran who fought during World War II against the Japanese died alone in an apartment in Chinatown, and no one found out until his body started decomposing, Chiu helped take care of his funeral. The incident also alerted him to Taiwanese veterans living in the U.S. alone. He decided to donate some cemetery slots the organization owned to them so the veterans didn’t have to worry about their burials. “He did something the government was not able to do,” said Shiao. “Without him, Lin Sing won’t be as influential as it is today.”

Chiu’s interest in politics, in addition to the fact that Lin Sing is not a 501(3)c nonprofit organization, allowed him to turn the organization into a bridge between politicians and the Chinese community. Over the years, Lin Sing has become a mandatory stop for candidates running for all levels of public office who seek the support of Chinese voters. In 2005, when former Mayor Michael Bloomberg ran for re-election, he opened a campaign office at Lin Sing, the first time a major candidate did so in Chinatown. The tactic was adopted by John Liu when he ran for city comptroller in 2009 and Eric Schneiderman when he ran for state attorney general in 2010. Both established their offices at Lin Sing.

Numerous candidates have campaigned at Lin Sing, including former Gov. Eliot Spitzer when he ran as a candidate for city comptroller in 2013, Bill de Blasio as a mayoral candidate in the same year, and Rep. Daniel Donovan when he was running for his current position in 2015. Last year, when Hillary Clinton was running for president, she sent her Asian campaign team to Lin Sing to host a “Chinese support Hillary” event.

Even in recent months, during the final stage of Chiu’s life, Lin Sing still welcomed Council members Peter Koo and Carlos Menchaca who were running for re-election, and Nancy Tong, who was running for City Council.

Politicians from Reps. Grace Meng and Nydia Velazquez, to former Comptroller Liu expressed  high praise for Chiu’s legacy and sent condolences to his family. “Eddie Chiu’s passing ‎is a loss for our city,” said Mayor de Blasio. “His loss will be felt across New York,” said Attorney General Schneiderman.

But this is not to say Chiu had no enemies. He was indeed a controversial figure in Chinatown. A person who’s been in the community for a long time said murmurs about Chiu messing up the finances of the organizations he led have been swirling around Chinatown for a long time. And during his reign at Lin Sing, he controlled the books all by himself, expelled dissidents and surrounded himself with only his own people. So Lin Sing is now left in disarray.

Nine members of the organization have formed a special task force to audit the books, with a special focus on the money Lin Sing raised for Liang’s legal defense that was not used up. James Wong, the organizer of the task force, said the auditing won’t stop on account of Chiu’s passing, because the organization is responsible for answering questions from the community. The task force is determined to find out the truth.

Shirley Huang, director of Asian business development at Royal Care NYC who has known Chiu since 2005, said the last time she saw Chiu was in August, and he was very weak and skinny. “But he was still in the office to help people who came to seek help,” she said. Huang said she wouldn’t be surprised if Chiu, who alone managed the finances of Lin Sing, misplaced some checks that people donated. But it’s absolutely not possible that he embezzled the more than $70,000 in donations left after Liang’s case. “He didn’t need the money. The money he himself donated every year was more than this,” said Huang. “It is not reasonable to suspect him.”

Lin Sing will host a memorial service for Chiu on Oct. 21 from 4 pm to 6 pm. It is open to the public. Lin Sing is located at 49 Mott St., Manhattan.

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