CB3 Chair Gigi Li Will Challenge Rajkumar For District Leader (Updated)

Gigi Li spoke at this past week's Essex Street Market 75th anniversary celebration.

Gigi Li spoke at this past week’s Essex Street Market 75th anniversary celebration.

The campaign for district leader in Lower Manhattan just got more interesting. While an official announcement has not yet been made, Community Board 3 Chairperson Gigi Li has decided to take on Jenifer Rajkumar, the incumbent. The contest could serve as a preview of a potential campaign to replace Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, should he choose to step down or be forced into retirement following his federal corruption trial.

Last night, political activist Zella Jones sent out an email invitation for a reception next week to introduce Li as a candidate for district leader in the 65th Assembly District, Part C. The “Friends of Gigi Li” event is being hosted by Jones, a Noho resident, Antony Wong, a leader of Community Board 2 and co-chair of the Chinatown Working Group; and Ken Paskar, the vice president of Lower Manhattan Democrats, a political club.

Rajkumar, who lives in the Financial District, announced her re-election campaign last month at City Hall with a sizable group of political supporters. She was endorsed by U.S. Representatives Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler, as well as New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Manhattan County Leader Keith Wright. Rajkumar unsuccessfully took on City Council member Margaret Chin in 2013, but pulled in over 40% of the vote. Li, a Chinatown resident, campaigned vigorously for Chin and has been viewed as a potential candidate for the District 1 Council seat in the future. Chin is expected to run for a third term.

District leaders serve as liaisons between the general public and elected officials and help coordinate elections, but they have little authority. The position can, however, serve as a launching pad for people with greater political ambitions. Since Silver’s arrest earlier this year, there’s been a great deal of speculation about the future of his Assembly seat, which the former Lower east Side power broker has held since 1974. His trial is set to begin November 2. While none of them has said anything definitive in public, Rajkumar, Li, as well as Rajkumar’s fellow district leader, Paul Newell, are all positioning themselves for a potential campaign.

This month, Li will very likely be re-elected to a fourth term as chairperson of Community Board 3. She was challenged for the position last year by Chad Marlow, but no one stepped forward during the nomination process in the past month to run against Li this time around. At the May meeting of CB3, Rajkumar took a turn at the microphone, telling members of the board that she is eager to help advocate for issues on the Lower East Side.

Li, the first Asian woman to lead Community Board 3, is director of the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition.

UPDATE 5:32 p.m. Here’s a sattement Li put out a short time ago:

Lower Manhattan residents deserve a district leader with a powerful voice, genuine leadership experience and the will to fight for the community every single day. I’m proud and excited to be running for Democratic District Leader in the 65th Assembly District, Part C, because I know that together we can make incredible strides and get the real results our community needs. In the coming weeks I’ll be speaking directly with residents across the district about my plan to take on challenges like preserving affordability, tackling the school overcrowding crisis and protecting the authentic, historic character of our neighborhoods. This September, voters in Lower Manhattan will have an important decision to make about who they think can truly get the job done on the issues that matter — and I’m looking forward to it.

20 comments to CB3 Chair Gigi Li Will Challenge Rajkumar For District Leader (Updated)

  • Jack Suarez

    This is exactly what our district does NOT need. A petty grudge by Margaret Chin being played out through an ambitious puppet who does not even live here. Ms. Li is not a resident, has no connection with our community whatsoever and has no idea of the issues which we face. Her “campaign” is little more than an effort to gain some recognition in advance of an Assembly race at the clear expense of our community. It’s transparent and disgraceful, and we should not tolerate this. Jenifer Rajkumar has represented us aggressively and successfully for several years. She fought for the marina, she brought a lawsuit that forced the replacement of heating units in the under serviced Gateway apartments and she is immensely popular and accessible. She is the only sensible choice in this election. If Ms. Li wishes to play out her political and personal ambitions and to serve the will of Ms. Chin, she should have run for the Chinatown seat where she actually lives. It is not appropriate to use our community as shills for that ambition and to treat us as fools. It’s offensive.

  • AnonNYC10009

    Very well said.

  • ANewDayontheLES

    Wow! What? Huh? Really? No way!

    Replacing the disgraced Silver with one of his many puppets, is not the way forward for this community. Got to give it to Silver though even with the looming trial, stripped of his power in Albany, his best friend in jail, links to corrupt judges, his son-in-law indicted for fraud with his daughter close behind (unless daddy sings like a canary) –the man is still pulling the strings locally.

    Li’s supporters, Zella Jones and Ken Paskar both coming from the political club LMD are longtime shills for Shelly (read Paskar’s love letter to Shelly in The Villager) and CWP is just a voting block Shelly secured when his own dwindled on Grand Street.

    Not to mention that CWP who never really represented Chinatown / Lower East Side but rather served as a political front has become so irrelevant with more Chinatown groups pulling out that Gigi Li is their political hope for the future, and for advancing their own agenda which incidentally does not have Chinatown’s / Lower East Side’s best interest at heart.

    While Margaret Chin is just being vindictive pushing Li to challenge Rajkumar, we as voters have something far greater to fear than a political woman scorned. If Gigi Li wins, we not only get more Margaret Chin but we get more Silver too!

    Please make a better 65th Assembly District for everyone. Don’t vote Gigi Li. For Christ sake, she doesn’t even live in District C!

  • david

    Hey, it’s a free country right?

  • Georgette Fleischer

    As a community activist who actually lives in the 65th Assembly District, Part C, unlike Gigi Li (Part D) and Zella Jones (66th A.D.) who is promoting her, I endorse Jenifer Rajkumar unequivocally. I got to know Jenifer three years ago when together we were escorted out of City Hall along with a hundred others in protest of the wildly unpopular Margaret Chin-promoted NYU core expansion plan, a conflict between constituents and councilmember that continues to play out this very afternoon in the New York State Court of Appeals in Albany. By contrast Jenifer joined Washington Square-area Villagers in rallying around the statue of Mayor LaGuardia before we went to the 1st Dept. Appellate Division on NYU. Alongside the Petrosino Square community, Jenifer protested the Citi Bike station that took over the art installation space in our newly expanded and renovated public park, and she was in court with us when we went before the 1st Dept. Appellate Division. That Jenifer is an attorney with a J.D. from Stanford Law School gives her an edge in representing a community that faces these kinds of encroachments on the Public Trust doctrine.
    I have never met Gigi Li. To my knowledge she has never appeared at let alone participated in any of the struggles of our community. If she would like to run for District Leader, it is in the 65th A.D., Part D, where she lives, that would make sense.
    We in the 65th A.D., Part C are exceedingly well served by both our current District Leaders. Let’s reelect them.
    Georgette Fleischer
    President, Friends of Petrosino Square

  • I am e Evelyn Salt

    Li has been spectacularly unremarkable. Her tenure has produced nothing of note for the residents of CB3.

  • Byrd

    The 65th district Part C already has a tremendous district leader in Jenifer Rajkumar. She has stood tall and fought against some of the biggest piranha’s in the city. She has advocated for more transportation, education, public space, and small businesses throughout the district. She seeks to make the change that the community, city, and state desperately need. She is not controlled like Gigi Li is by Margaret Chin. How someone can seek to represent a district they do not reside in is beyond me, it’s a slap in the face to the voters in this district. The choice is clear, and has always been clear. Jenifer Rajkumar has fought for us in the past, and deserves to continue to fight for us in the future. Vote Jenifer Rajkumar.

  • Finally Fed Up

    Everything I would like to say is in the previous response. Gigi Li is not good for the Lower East Side and should not be elected. We need a responsible fighter to keep the remaining quality of the neighborhood intact; she is just another politician. She is allied with the wrong politicians.

  • Ken Paskar

    To begin with, I thought your article was well written and fairly balanced, however, I would like to make one correction. Pat Moore is the interim President of LMD and I am the club’s VP.

    The District Leader race for the 65th Assembly District Part C had no challengers and I felt it important to our system of Democracy that voters have a choice. Gigi Li is well qualified for District Leader and she is extremely popular and well liked. There is absolutely no reason that Ms. Rajkumar should not be challenged and absolutely no reason why Ms. Li should not run.
    It’s disheartening to read many of the other comments preceding mine to this article such as from Jack Suarez who says that Ms. Li’s run is disgraceful and shouldn’t be tolerated (paraphrasing). ANewDayOntheLES says, that I’m a shill of Assemblyman Silver because I wrote an op-ed after having had enough of reading hate filled headlines, opinions and comments over his arrest. It wasn’t only just hateful, but, the extent of the character assassination was unprecedented for someone who has been indicted with only circumstantial evidence unlike State Senator Skelos who was arrested and indicted red handed after months of phone taps. Where is the outrage for Sen. Skelos?
    These campaigns are not about me or what I want or what I think. It’s about what’s best for our community and our district and I feel it begins with respect for the office and the person who holds that office, respect for the process and each individual’s right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Ms Rajkumar should have an opponent, not for any other reason other than to give the voters a choice and to create dialogue and debate. I’m concerned that Ms. Rajkumar and others will try to win off the back of Assemblyman Silver rather than the issues affecting our district and communities. I urge our candidates to make these races whether for District Leader, State Senate , State Assembly or City Council about the issues and not about Assemblyman Silver. Don’t try to win by kicking someone when they’re down and pilling on. That’s not the kind of elected official we want.
    BTW, I couldn’t help but notice that The Lo-Down has reported that “Rajkumar forms campaign committee for possible State Senate run” and “Rajkumar kicks off District Leader re-election campaign amid speculation about Silver’s Assembly Seat” . Ms. Rajkumar lost her last election for City Council and certainly Council Person’s Margaret Chin’s seat is on her radar too. It seems as though Ms. Rajkumar can’t decide what office to run for. Maybe she should run for President?

  • RoBow

    Ken, you were doing good until you got to your last paragraph. Then, you lowered yourself to exactly what you criticized other commenters in this post of. That’s unfortunate, and really undercuts your position. Also, when you have to type that much just to make a point, it’s not that good to begin with.

    Besides, call for sticking to the issues all you want (and then not do so), but this election will be based on last names. No doubt. Few even know what a district leader does, so be happy, most will vote on who’s name sounds the most like Chinatown. And don’t pretend you didn’t know that when you drafted Ms. Li.

    May the best woman win… even though that usually doesn’t happen.

  • Ken Paskar

    Thank you for your comment. The point of my last paragraph was that many of the comments accused Ms. Li of actually having higher political aspirations when in fact Ms. Rajkumar has publically come out seeking higher office.
    I did not recruit Ms. Li to run. In fact, I found out just recently at a Democratic club’s (not LMD) annual spring reception when Ms. Li approached me and told me that she is running. This was the same reception that I saw Ms. Rajkumar schmoozing with Assembly Speaker Silver, (not that there’s anything wrong with it).
    I believe in the Democratic process and it works better when there is more than one candidate running for office. Ms. Li is not a shoe-in because her name is Asian. I think it’s racist to believe that all Asians vote only for Asians. Former City Council Person, Alan Gerson beat Margaret Chin twice before losing to her several years ago for a city council district which includes Chinatown.
    Ms. Rajkumar and Ms. Li are both qualified candidates for District Leader. As the incumbent, you have to look at Ms. Rajkumar’s record as District Leader and determine what, if anything, she has accomplished in that role and whether or not you want her to serve another term. Her endorsements also came long before she had an opponent so it’s hard to take those endorsements seriously since they haven’t had an opportunity to consider her opponent. It’s gratuitous but also quite common for elected officials to endorse an incumbent early on. Many times endorsements are already lined up even before a candidate announces.
    Therefore, I would urge voters to get to know both candidates, get to hear what they both have to say. Then decide.

  • RoBow

    And thank you for the clarification, Ken. I just hate to read people so grossly not practice what they preached, and your subtext was glaring. I’m just not so sure why seeking higher office is a knock on anyone. With term-limits these days, a candidate better be thinking about their next office, or I don’t want to vote for them in the first place.

    Certainly, Ms. Li is angling to replace Margaret. Nothing wrong with that, but she lacks leadership skills, charisma and intellect. Ms. Rajkumar is so much smarter than our local pol’s, and she is right on the local issues, so she better be thinking about her next campaign and get out of this small-time muck.

    As for Gerson, he was a disheveled mess who I wouldn’t trust to run a lemonade stand, and if Ms. Chin were half-a-candidate, she would have beaten him the first time. But she’s not. She’s just not intellectually curious, and not educated enough to deserve being in a leadership position. Unfortunately people in her district are grossly underrepresented unless they’re a senior citizen. It really is sad.

    It would be nice if voters got to know these candidates, but they don’t and won’t. Life is too busy and complicated as it is. I can’t blame ‘em. To call for such scrutiny is either misguided or disingenuous. I’m gather you know better, but I guess you had to say it.

  • Ken Paskar

    You say that Ms. Li is lacks leadership skills, charisma and intellect, Alan Gerson is a disheveled mess and Council Woman Chin is not educated enough to be a candidate. For one, Council Woman Chin beat Jenifer Rajkumar in the last election for City Council. Using your own analogy that if Chin was half a candidate she would have beaten Gerson the first time around would also suggests that if Jenifer Rajkumar were half a candidate she would have beaten Chin the first time around. I think before we start throwing stones we should remember that we all live in glass houses.
    In case you weren’t aware, Ms. Rajkumar was quoted in today’s issue of Downtown Express essentially telling Ms. Li that she should go back to Chinatown and run in her own district. Being that Ms. Li is Asian American those kinds of remarks are nothing less than racist. Ms. Li lives in the Assembly district where she is running and according to NY Law anyone can run for District Leader in any of the parts of the district they live in. If you don’t like the law change it, if you don’t like the candidate because she doesn’t live in your part then don’t vote for her. But, go back to Chinatown? Really?

  • Steven Lee

    What an incredible load of nonsense. Let’s shine some truth
    on this “commentary.” First, Paskar is an embittered refugee
    from a failed political club, not some paragon of democracy. This is
    shilling for Chin and her willing puppet, plain and simple. Trying to cloak it in
    fair-mindedness reeks of dishonesty and offends anyone with a functioning
    brain. Second, Li is NOT qualified for District Leader in Part C. She
    doesn’t live here and knows nothing about our residents who she now all of a
    sudden wants to meet, and then save. She also is not “popular”
    or “well liked” in Part C because no one here ever has heard of her other than by virtue of reading about the racial discrimination charges brought against her in her role
    as CB3 chair. So please don’t try to play the race card against Ms.
    Rajkumar–the daughter of South Asian immigrants who has made a career of
    fighting for diversity and equality, including IN CHINATOWN ON BEHALF OF CHINESE WORKERS– when we all know that it is Ms. Kam Chi
    Li who has the real and documented issue there. Pretty stupid move,
    Ken. Third, Rajkumar said nothing even remotely racist. She said Li shoudl run in Chinatown. Period. She is correct. The area where Li lives is called Chinatown. That’s what the Lo-Down called it in the article, remember? Fourth, there are compelling reasons why Li should not run IN
    PART C. Most compelling among them are that she represents and is
    beholden to people like Chin and Paskar, who care nothing about our district,
    only about rescuing the political influence they so clearly see slipping away.
    Rajkumar has been endorsed by every elected official because she is qualified,
    she is effective and by her work has earned their respect. So please, let’s
    stop the self-serving crap and pretense. Li has no record of any
    accomplishment, no connection with our district and no basis on which to seek
    an office held by an incredibly caring, intelligent and accomplished District
    Leader with a very bright future serving the constituents who have elected
    her. She has more than earned our votes and it is pure garbage for the
    Chin/Li/Paskar unholy triumvirate to try desperately to smear her with a charge of
    racism. Shame on you! Pathetic.

  • ANewDayontheLES

    Amen. End of discussion.

  • Ken Paskar

    Trying to redirect the conversation to make this about me and blaming Ms Li by minimizing Ms. Rajkumar’s racist statement is not going to make this go away and is a slap in the face to our community and a stick in the eye to the Asian American’s who live in our district. Maybe Ms. Rajkumar should take some responsibility over her comments? An embittered refugee from a failed political club? LOL. Even if that was true that doesn’t make what Ms. Rajkumar said any less racist nor does it excuse what she said. She still has to answer to the voters, to those that supported her and endorsed her regardless of how embittered I am. Embittered refugee from an failed political club? Really? How long did it take you to think that one up?
    Look, I understand very well that you feel strongly that Ms. Rajkumar is your candidate for District Leader and maybe even for higher office. You have been supporting her for years and have a lot invested in her which is clear from your passionate comment. But, no matter what you think of me, no matter how embittered a refugee I am from a failed club or how terrible and horrible Ms. Li might be to you as a candidate, you simply cannot allow what Ms. Rajkumar said to slide by. It’s just wrong. It’s unfortunate that she said it but you can’t unring a bell.

  • Bowerygals

    - Both women are running for political office. Thus, both are politicians.
    – Both have political ambitions. Both have the right to those ambitions. Women get to do that too.
    – This is about Shelly Silver’s seat should he should step down. (we don’t have to pretend about that).
    – Assembly Districts are gerrymandered – including the 65th Assembly District. Look at the map. 1/3 of it is near Houston Street, a chunk over near Little Italy and a bunch downtown near Battery Park City. There isn’t any one neighborhood to these boundaries.
    The Lo-Down linked the map:

    If you are saying this should be decided by the neighborhood you live in …that’s going to be impossible.

    – Li works with her Council Member. You are supposed to if you chair a CB. They often agree on issues (both have been/are community organizers – there are a common bonds around creating affordable housing, equity, small business protections, elders, youth, etc.). You could construe their working relationship as collegial.
    – Chinese people are a diverse and varied community with different political agendas. Go to a meeting with the Chinatown Working Group – there is a very wide spectrum.
    – I assume the people who endorsed Rajkumar meant what they said. And Li wasn’t in the race at the time. Both are true.
    – Both of these women get targeted by racism – they know more about it than most of us writing here. I think we should let that one go.

  • Steven Lee

    Ok, enough of the BS please, Paskar. You’re wrong, you’ve lost and you should stop. You’re the only one out there spouting this nonsense and no one agrees with you (even those who might support Li), but like a typical political hack you go on and on hoping that your invective and lies will take hold. You’d make the Bushies proud. You seem truly not to undertand that it’s destructive and dangerous to inject race into this election, and like a fool in the dark you seem oblivious to what you’re doing. You’ve now made the past charges of racism against Li part of the election when Ms. Rajkumar and her supporters otherwise might have avoided them out of the sense of decency that you so clearly lack. That is not wise. You’ve sought to smear a young woman who is emblematic of the multicultural and racial tolerance we all hope for, having shown over and over throughout her career her support for minorities and the disenfranchised (including Asian Americans). This is the worst sort of demagoguery. It’s truly shameful and it lessens our community and all our residents. If you and your cronies want to keep howling at the moon, perhaps we can’t stop you. You should know by now, however, that you are the only ones listening and that you and Chin are destroying now and forever the lapdog you’re championing. No none will vote for her. Anyone with a conscience should implore you to cease the Willie Horton tactics. It’s disgraceful and you ought to know better. If as children often do you need the last word, feel free. We are done with you. Good luck with your Klan rally on Monday night.

  • Ken Paskar

    Ms. Rajkumar’s statement was racist and disgusting, nothing you can say about me can change that. I’m not wrong, it’s no different than telling an African American to go back to Harlem and run there, or a Hispanic American to go back to Spanish Harlem and run there or an Italian American to go back to Little Italy and run there even if that’s where you live as long as you have a right to run in the Assembly part you are running in.. This is not about who wins the election anymore nor is it about you or me. It’s about trying to sweep this under the rug and trying to minimize Ms. Rajkumar’s racist remarks by her supporters. It’s about trying to redirect the conversation away from what Ms. Rajkumar said by attacking me and her opponent, the victim of the racist remarks which is even more disgusting. It’s about Ms. Rajkumar not taking responsibility for what she said and not apologizing to the Asian community. Ms. Rajkumar may prevail in the election, and if that’s what the voters want then so be it, I am fine with that. However, one thing I can tell you for sure, although I may be the only one online who is posting, there are a lot of people who agree with me, however I suspect their voices will be heard very soon in a different medium.

  • JEng

    what?? Margaret Chin is part of the same machine as the rest of the city council! Look how they gave her elders when AAFE is going into senior centers and how she then tied that to rent regs. PLEASE. It’s so obvious – no one gets in who is not in on it.