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.
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.