CM Margaret Chin Celebrates Inauguration, Recalls Coming to America 55 Years Ago

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City Council member Margaret Chin was sworn in last Tuesday evening, 55 years to the day that she arrived in New York City as an immigrant from Hong Kong. During an inauguration ceremony, Chin recalled her humble beginnings in a tenement on Mulberry Street and looked ahead to a third and final term serving District 1. Among those rallying around the Lower Manhattan lawmaker was the new City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, who made a point of defending Chin’s honor, saying she was “bullied” and “unfairly attacked” during a surprisingly competitive re-election campaign.

Hundreds of local activists from the Lower East Side, Chinatown and other downtown neighborhoods gathered in City Council Chambers to celebrate Chin’s inauguration. She was sworn in by State Supreme Court Judge Jeffrey Oing, as her husband, Alan Tung, and other family members looked on. Former City Council member Rosie Mendez served as master of ceremonies.

In prepared remarks, Chin recounted her family’s arrival at Idlewild Airport (which later became JFK International Airport) on Jan. 9, 1963, when she was just 9 years old. “There was snow on the ground,” said Chin, “and we had no snow boots!”  Even in that first apartment, located above an Italian butcher shop, she understood that, “this was the land of opportunity.” Five decades later, Chin added, “I stand before you as I was that first day in America, the proud daughter of two immigrants who dared to dream a better life.”

Chin doesn’t often tell her life story, emphasizing the challenges she faced as a trailblazer — the first Asian woman in the City Council. But during this speech, she did just that. “My journey to elected office,” said the Council member, “was not easy. As an Asian American woman and a first generation American, I saw an opportunity to represent my community (Chinatown) when we voted for a new city charter to increase the size of the City Council from 35 to 51. When I first ran for City Council in 1991, I lost. But I didn’t give up. I ran again –three more times before I won. “For me, it took almost 20 years, and I’m so proud to see so many of you who helped our community achieve that dream. Tonight is proof that when our diverse communities stand together our power is unstoppable.”

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson at Margaret Chin's inauguration.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson at Margaret Chin’s inauguration.

 

Chin won the Democratic Primary this past September by just 222 votes, barely edging out political newcomer Christopher Marte. Political opponents angered by her campaign to build senior housing at the Elizabeth Street Garden, as well as other contentious issues, railed against the two-term office holder. After Marte chose to mount another challenge in the General Election, local activists as well as high-profile elected officials, including Johnson, closed ranks behind Chin. She was victorious with margin of victory of more than 3,000 votes out of nearly 24,000 votes cast.

In his remarks on Tuesday, Speaker Johnson said, “Margaret is a fierce fighter for her community, but she is also a lovely human being.” (Johnson called Chin a surrogate mother.) He said Chin has a long track record of, “fighting for the disenfranchised, (and) giving a voice to the voiceless” on issues like senior services, immigration and affordable housing.

Johnson then added, “I just want to tell you that Margaret has been unfairly attacked, for a long time. Margaret has been bullied and smeared and a lot of untrue things have been said about Margaret Chin.”  He recalled a day during the campaign in which he was campaigning with Chin outside the Morton Williams Supermarket on La Guardia Place.

“…Because of all the smears that were leveled against her,” said Johnson, “people were coming over screaming at me and her. I was screaming back at them.” Johnson said Chin told him during that heated moment not to worry, that she was unfazed by the protesters. “She conducted herself,” said Johnson, “with grace, with dignity and with the temperament she has always carried in her eight years in the Council and in her 30 years fighting for New York City.”

Others took turns at the microphone, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Public Advocate Letitia James, who’s already been mentioned as a potential mayoral contender in four years. James made reference to Chin’s tough re-election fight, emphasizing her support and that of others in her political orbit for the embattled Council member. “As a result, I think of our efforts, Margaret Chin is securely in place for the next four years,” said James.

James also spoke of an issue that will likely dominate the next year or two — three controversial mega-towers that have been proposed in the Two Bridges area. “We stand with Margaret,” said James, “as she stands up against irresponsible development in Lower Manhattan, development that is out of character, inconsistent with the character of the neighborhood, a neighborhood which, unfortunately will no longer be a neighborhood if these tall, anonymous buildings are built.”

Margaret Chin, in her speech, mentioned the fierce development battles in Lower Manhattan, saying, “We stood with the community to… protect vulnerable neighborhoods from the threat of luxury overdevelopment.” She concluded by telling friends and colleagues, “What we have built these past eight years is a movement, and while sometimes these decisions are difficult, as your Council member I am committed to doing whatever it takes to make this city our home – a better place for people of every generation.”

Last week, Johnson announced committee assignments, reappointing Chin to chair the Council’s aging committee. She has also named to the speaker’s leadership committee.