Meet Margaret Chin and Rocky Chin, two candidates running for City Council in Manhattan’s District 1. Both have long records of community activism and impeccable progressive bona fides. Rocky Chin, a former union officer, is well-known in the district. Margaret Chin has important political experience from her two previous runs at the office in 1991 and 1993.
And if politics worked that way, both would seem to have a very good shot at being the first Asian-American to sit on the New York City Council.
Instead, that honor will most likely be going to John Liu, the well-heeled financial consultant from Flushing’s District 20.
Granted, Liu’s record of community activism pales in comparison to theirs. Attorney Rocky Chin has some two decades of experience advocating for housing issues, human rights and disability rights. Margaret Chin, the deputy executive director of the powerhouse nonprofit Asian Americans for Equality, has a 25-year record of fighting for immigrant rights and housing issues.
But Liu has the money–and the backing of the party bosses.
Political operatives speak highly of the 33-year-old’s energetic and well-oiled campaign. Not only is Liu finished with fundraising–he has already raised the maximum $137,000 allowed for a primary under campaign finance laws–but he has worked tirelessly to convince Tom Manton, the Democratic boss of Queens, that he is the party’s man in Flushing. For his efforts, Liu can expect the invaluable support of the borough’s political machine can offer him: help reaching voters from unions, political clubs in the area and those who owe their jobs to patronage.
“He’s run the classic campaign,” says one party insider. “He’s got the money out of the way and now can get to the real work of getting voters.”
By contrast, the Manhattan contenders are likely to split the important Asian vote. And unlike Liu, neither can count on the support of a single political boss, since Manhattan does not have one. While both Rocky Chin and Margaret Chin can boast of union affiliations and support, so can their opponents–and some unions are apparently looking favorably upon Brad Hoylman, a counsel at the New York City Housing Partnership who is running for the same District 1 seat.
Liu is blissfully free of these headaches. Flushing also has a large Asian population, made up of Taiwanese, mainland Chinese and Koreans. But the nominal opposition Liu faces comes from Ethel Chen, a retired librarian with a fraction of Liu’s money and no visible support from the party machine or Asian community. Knowledgeable sources say that the leaders of Flushing’s Korean community, having perceived Liu as a front-runner, have also decided to back him. With the political machine behind him, Liu can also expect the white vote.
Still, race relations might be more of an issue in relatively conservative Flushing than the lower East Side, Liu conceded. “Let’s face it,” he said wryly, “there are always some people who won’t vote for a chink.”