Supporters crowded into in a raucous banquet hall in Chinatown last night to celebrate Margaret Chin’s convincing victory in the District 1 City Council Primary over two-term incumbent Alan Gerson. He was one of four Council members kicked out of office in what the New York Times called “the greatest repudiation of incumbents in a generation.” Before yesterday’s election, only three members of the City Council had lost re-election battles since 1997. But voters – angered by the Council’s decision to extend term limits – rejected three members who supported the controversial maneuver.
The significance of the moment was not lost on Chin last night, who finally prevailed after seeking the District 1 Council seat four times. For the first time, Chinatown will be represented by an Asian. Chin will be the only Asian woman on the City Council. While vowing to represent all of Lower Manhattan, she acknowledged that history had been made. The achievement was a long time in the making. Almost 20 years ago, Council districts were redrawn, with the idea that the neighborhood should have a voice in City government.
Chin won by a one-thousand vote margin, in a five candidate field. With 100-percent of the precincts reporting, she has 39% (4541 votes). Gerson: 30% (3520). PJ Kim: 16% (1927). Pete Gleason: 11% (1293). Arthur Gregory: 2% (235). All day long, there were reports of high turnout in Chinatown, but in other neighborhoods interest in the Primary was relatively low. Chin did better than some of her opponents expected in more affluent parts of the district, including Tribeca and Battery Park City. She also did well on the Lower East Side, where her signature issue, affordable housing, is a paramount concern.
Gerson called Chin to offer his congratulations shortly after 11pm, but he did not officially concede the race. His campaign struggled from the start. Having to defend his term limits vote, Gerson was constantly on the defensive. He was temporarily knocked off the ballot due to errors in his petitions, denied public matching funds and was even stricken with the swine flu. Gleason, who picked up a key endorsement from the Downtown Independent Democrats, faded in the final days of the campaign. Having gone after Gerson aggressively in debates and in court battles, Gleason may have been perceived as excessively negative. Kim, who was endorsed by the New York Times, was the wild card. The 32-year old newcomer to downtown politics battled rumors that he was a spoiler, put in the race by Gerson allies to allegedly divide the Chinese vote (Kim is Korean).
Last night, Chin thanked her husband, who urged her to step down from an executive position (at Asian Americans for Equality) in order to devote her full attention to the campaign. She hired a brash, young campaign manager, Jake Itzkowitz, an organizer for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. He put in place an aggressive get out the vote operation, not only in Chinatown, but across the district.
Margaret Chin with campaign manager, Jake Itzkowitz
Chin is not letting up. Just as she has most every day since May, she was out at a subway stop this morning, greeting voters. Chin has a Republican opponent in November’s general election, but given the overwhelming Democratic majority in District 1, her election is all but assured.
We will have a video report from Margaret Chin’s victory celebration later today.