Battle for the 65th AD: Key Endorsements, A Candidate Drops Out in Protest

Gigi Li with Council member Margaret Chin and other supporters. Photo courtesy: Gigi Li's campaign.

Gigi Li with Council member Margaret Chin and other supporters. Photo courtesy: Gigi Li’s campaign.

We’re four days away from Super Bowl Sunday, as well as Lunar New Year Eve. But there’s another big event on the Lower East Side Sunday: a key meeting of the city’s Democratic Party to choose former Assemblyman Sheldon Silver’s successor. There are several developments to pass along today regarding the battle for the 65th Assembly District seat.

First, Community Board 3 Chairperson Gigi Li kicked off her campaign last night with a fundraiser at Silk Road Cafe on Mott Street. She picked up the endorsement of City Council member Margaret Chin and support from a range of community activists. They included Wellington Chen of the Chinatown Partnership, former CB3 member John Leo and Alysha Lewis-Coleman, another CB3 leader and tenant activist.

In brief remarks, Li emphasized her local roots (years spent in Chinese school on Mott Street and at IS 131). She listed a number of priorities, including expanded social services in general, more programs for seniors, better quality schools and a renewed focus on maintaining and building affordable housing. Li is director of the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition and is the first Asian to head Community Board 3. “I have the experience and the dedication to deliver for the district,” said Li. She highlighted her past advocacy for after school programs and for government aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Last summer, Li withdrew her candidacy for district leader after failing to collect enough signatures to earn a spot on the ballot. She was accused by the incumbent, Jenifer Rajkumar, of fraudulently obtaining signatures. Rajkumar is one of several other candidates now vying for Silver’s former Assembly seat. Last night, Council member Chin reportedly acknowledged the controversy, but said she’s convinced Li has the dedication and experience to represent Lower Manhattan in Albany.

chnese chamber 2

Yuh-Line Niou (seated, second from left) visits the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

Today another candidate, Yuh-Line Niou, secured a significant endorsement, that of former New York City Comptroller John Liu. While Liu’s mayoral bid was derailed by a campaign finance controversy, he remains a popular figure in Chinatown. Niou is currently chief of staff for Assemblyman Ron Kim of Flushing. In a statement, Liu said, “Yuh-Line’s commitment to public service, her passion as a community advocate, her national experience along with her extensive knowledge of the workings of state government make (her) the voice lower Manhattan needs in Albany.”

This afternoon, Niou paid a visit to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, a more than 100-year-old civic organization located within the Confucius Plaza complex on the Bowery. She was accompanied by Virginia Kee, founder of the United Democratic Organization (UDO). The Chinatown-based political club is offering important support to Niou, a fairly new resident of the Financial District. Jenny Low, a district leader, was also at the candidate’s side during today’s meet-and-greet. The Chamber of Commerce does not endorse candidates for public office, but it’s standard practice for office-seekers to appear before the organization as a gesture of respect. Speaking before a small group of local reporters, Niou said she’s running to “utilize the experience gained in 15 years of public service.” No candidate competing for the seat, she argued, can match her Albany know-how.

There were more campaign developments today. In a statement, candidate John Bal withdrew from the race, saying, “I can no longer participate in a blatantly undemocratic process to replace former Assemblyman Silver. It is unfortunate that other candidates are not troubled by the lack of democratic process.” On Saturday, Governor Cuomo called a special election to fill the Assembly seat, which Silver was forced to vacate after being found guilty on federal corruption charges. On Sunday, 186 members of the Democratic County Committee will chose the party’s nominee. That person will run in a general election April 19. Committee members are tied to four local political clubs. “It’s a disappointment that Gov. Cuomo called for a Special Election, which strongly favors political clubs and excludes community participation,” said Bal.

Finally, we have a few more details about Sunday’s County Committee meeting. A Democratic Party spokesperson confirms the members will gather at 2 p.m. at the Manny Cantor Center, located at 197 East Broadway. They’ll be asked to fill out a first ballot with their pick. Votes will continue to take place until one candidate garners a majority of the committee (50% plus 1). One other note: the votes are weighted, meaning that not every committee member has the same influence over the final result.

Not everyone is pleased with the timing of Sunday’s meeting. In Chinatown today, District Leader Jenny Low noted that Sunday is not only the Super Bowl but an important evening for Chinese families. It’s the start of Lunar New Year celebrations. The County Committee was forced to call a meeting within 7 days of Cuomo’s declaration. “Dragging people out to vote” on this day, she said, creates an unfortunate and frustrating situation for the community.

In addition to Gigi Li, Yuh-Line Niou and Jenifer Rajkumar, other candidates for the Assembly seat include Don Lee, Paul Newell and Alice Cancel. The winner of the April special election will face re-election later this year during the regularly scheduled September primary. All of the candidates have indicated they’re committed to soldiering on even if they’re not chosen by the County committee this coming weekend.

Sunday’s meeting is open to the public.

UPDATE 8:30 p.m. In a story published this evening, the New York Post alleges that Yuh-Line Niou could be ineligible to run for the Assembly seat.

An election lawyer for rival candidate Jenifer Rajkumar told the tabloid, “This is a real issue. Niou doesn’t meet the (five year) residency requirement.” The attorney, Sarah Steiner, added, “We’ll challenge her eligibility if she’s nominated by the Democratic Party. ” Referencing unnamed sources, the Post, reported that Niou came to “New York from Seattle in 2010 to pursue a master’s degree through a National Urban Fellowship at Baruch College and lived briefly on Staten Island.” The fellowship reportedly required her to be in Washington, D.C. some of the time.  Sources told the newspaper that “Niou did not establish a continuous residence in New York until December 2011.”

Martin Connor, Niou’s lawyer, said in response to the story, “This is bull. She’s got plenty of documents showing that she lived in New York” and meets the five year residency requirement.

18 comments to Battle for the 65th AD: Key Endorsements, A Candidate Drops Out in Protest

  • Dee Snutz

    They’re all crooks. Spin-cycle.

  • ABetterLES

    Oh no, not Gigi Li! Hasn’t she proven that she is completely lacking in leadership qualities given the mess she’s made of Community Board 3? Please everyone, do what you can to ensure that Stetzer’s flunkie doesn’t get to represent Lower Manhattan in Albany

  • Luis Guzman

    If Gigi Li and Margaret Chin believe that the Latino vote will be docile like it was in past elections, they both better get ready. We don’t sleep in any more on election days. Let them know that.

  • Sikchutnay

    Pathetic, for someone who has,done nothing for the community to make,false claims of a track record in advocating for dis-n-dat

  • Sikchutnay

    Democracy NOT at work.

  • Luis Guzman

    Gigi, you’re going to get crushed and Margaret knows it. She just wants to read the numbers the next day to see who’s as see has to kiss to get reelected.

  • Luis Guzman

    You have Susan in the picture. Now we know how much you want to win.

  • Luis Guzman

    Last thing I will say is that Gigi lacks a backbone. She is a political contortionist.

  • McC

    Isn’t Gigi a racist? Forced to diversify CB3 and protesting against Black lives matter? Or was that just another example of her bending to both sides on everything?

  • Sikchutnay

    Holy crap! Gigi makes appearance in audience of ofc. Liang trial, this time on side if Gurley. Yet she,demonstrated on side of Liang just a few months ago, same ole indecisiveness . Do we want that representing the district in Albany?

  • ANewDayontheLES

    Gigi Li has been an epic failure at CB3. Why is she coming back after her disgraceful withdrawal from the DL race this past summer?

    It is obvious that Chin and her loyal proxy Stetzer of CB3 are desperately clinging to their diminishing power, and Li is their Hail Mary to hold on in the face of Virginia Kee / UDO political play to position Yuh-Line (an interloper who will take orders) as Silver’s heir apparent.

    The jockeying for power in Chinatown is in full swing. The winner will be determined by Silver’s club led by Judy Rapfogel. Shelly still holds all the power even as he awaits his sentencing.

    Truman Club also holds the fate of Two Bridges / South Bridge in their hands as they can also choose to back LES Dems / Mendez’s Alice Cancel. If Yuh-Line is in fact ineligible then Alice Cancel wins which Chin / Li are hoping for so they control the Chinese voting block come September.

    This whole process is mockery of our democracy. The voters will have to wait to September where WE hope new voices will emerge to challenge the status quo and win beating out whomever the machine puts up in place of Shelly be it Cancel or Yuh Line, and cut off Li from prevailing in the general election.

  • LESsunshine

    Gigi Li will definitely not get my vote. She is not being honest about her “local roots” background. She did not grow up in Chinatown. She was raised in Long Island. She only moved to Chinatown after college.

  • ABetterLES

    The Chinatown political machine players and their very narrow pro-Chinese interests should NOT get to determine who represents all of Lower Manhattan! Where is Jenifer Rajkumar when we need her??

  • KG_

    She’s actually brilliant and leads with integrity and has spent several years as an advocate for so many people. Maybe folks should take some time to research the work she’s done as an advocate….. because before she stepped into politics she’s been doing the work to transform communities.

  • ABetterLES

    Surely you jest! Perhaps you’re Li’s campaign manager?

    How has she ‘transformed’ communities? You mean perhaps that she transformed local residents into being cynics about the horrible leadership of Cheney and Bush ( Stetzer and Li) at CB3?

  • Bowerygals

    So billionaire corporate profiteers who exploited our soldiers, caused the deaths of countless people, destabilized and entire region and helped create Isis are worse than two community board people whose policies (or maybe personalities) you don’t like? I do believe every one of these candidates on their worst day beats that record! Most are authentic community members who try hard on behalf of their constituents. You may not like them or their policies but that is the limit of any legitimate beef.
    We really do have to shift the discourse on this.
    This process is not helping and that’s unfortunate.

  • ABetterLES

    What a bunch of bunk!

    So you really think that changing the subject,in your ineffective way, will cause Lower Manhattan residents to now embrace the failures of Gigi Li and Susan Stetzer??

  • Sikchutnay

    Brilliant!? Pray tell. What has she done for anyone besides give a politically correct neutral answer?