Mark-Viverito Gets Mixed Reception in Chinatown

Melissa Mark-Viverito at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of New York on Jan. 31 (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

Former City Council Speaker and now Public Advocate candidate Melissa Mark-Viverito visited the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA), a major community based organization in Chinatown on Jan. 31, accompanied by the Chinatown Council member Margaret Chin. She came to share her opinions with the Chinese voters and dived into scorching topics such as the city’s plan of expanding the Chinatown detention center, specialized high school reform, and the opening of marijuana dispensaries and homeless shelters in some  neighborhoods with a high concentration of Chinese residents. Mark-Viverito didn’t get a pass score with Eric Ng, president of the CCBA, while Chin called for Chinese voters to look at the long-term record of a candidate rather than vote on one or two single issues.

Regarding the jail expansion, Mark-Viverito emphasized her persistent position that she supports the Mayor’s plan of shutting down Rikers Island, and understands the logic of selecting locations close to the courts to build borough-based jails. Mark-Viverito said the detainees on Rikers Island are only suspects awaiting trial.

She cited the tragic case of Kalief Browder, a teenager who was detained for three years without trial after being accused of stealing a backpack. “The horrible experience in the three years changed him as a person,” Mark-Viverito said. Browder committed suicide in June 2015 after he was released. She also pointed out that the long distance of Rikers Island to many communities in the city makes visiting an ordeal. Many family members have to take a whole day off to travel there to see their loved ones.

But she blamed the city for announcing the plans without discussing them with the community. She said now councilmember Chin is working hard with the city to assure community engagement. “In the end some changes will be made based on the community’s feedback. But it’s not possible to incorporate everyone’s views,”  Mark-Viverito said.

Mark-Viverito didn’t offer a clear position on the specialized high school reform issue, excusing herself for having not thoroughly studied the issue yet. But again, she criticized the city for announcing the plan without talking to the community.

About marijuana dispensaries and homeless shelters, Mark-Viverito sides with the city.

On some key issues, Mark-Viverito’s views are far from those of many voters in the Chinese community. Asked whether she worries this would cost her some ballots, Mark-Viverito said no because she has a clear track record of fighting for immigrants during her tenure as the Speaker. As for her views, “these are based on my principles all the time. I am who I am. I am not going to say something I don’t believe just to please the voters,” Mark-Viverito said.

Chin, who has endorsed Mark-Viverito, pointed out Mark-Viverito’s efforts as speaker to increase the budget for senior centers, expand translation services and allocate funding for legal services for immigrants, programs that benefit many immigrants including Chinese. Chin said before they came to the CCBA, she accompanied Mark-Viverito to some senior centers in Chinatown. “Even I was surprised that many seniors recognized her from her city council time. This shows that people remember her work,” Chin said. Chin said Chinese voters should look at the track record rather than vote on single issues.

But Ng, who is widely known as the mayor of Chinatown, told the media afterwards that he is not satisfied with Mark-Viverito’s answers. “First of all, I feel she didn’t completely give out her views,” said Ng. And he went on to call on Chinese voters to vote for a Public Advocate who doesn’t support building a jail in Chinatown, specialized high school reform and opening marijuana dispensaries and homeless shelters in Chinese neighborhoods.

“I cannot tell you which individual candidate you should vote for. But a candidate who fits this criteria is the one you should vote for,” Ng said.

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