In 11 days, a special election will be held to decide who will replace Sheldon Silver in the 65th Assembly District. This morning, City Council member Margaret Chin came to the Alfred E. Smith Houses to announce her endorsement of Alice Cancel, the Democratic nominee.
Cancel is opposed by Yuh-Line Niou, a Democrat running on the Working Families Party line, Republican Lester Chang and Dennis Levy of the Green Party. Niou and Chang are both Chinese. Margaret Chin is the first Chinese American to represent Chinatown in the City Council.
As rain starting falling today, a diverse group of supporters gathered under scaffolding on Madison Street. The event was coordinated by Council member Rosie Mendez, an early supporter of Cancel. As a resident of the assembly district, Chin said she has been thinking about who to vote for in the special election:
When I thought about it, it was easy. It’s going to be Alice. Alice knows the community. She knows our schools. She knows our small businesses. She knows about public housing. She’s worked with the tenants: Latino tenants, Chinese tenants, African American tenants. And I’ve worked with Alice. She is a district leader who works with the elected officials. When there is a problem in the community, she calls me… I know there are other candidates who are running. One of them, I don’t share his values. He’s a Republican. The other one just moved into the district. She doesn’t know the people! You have to know the people. I know Alice is a fighter. When she fights for tenants, watch out.
Yuh-Line Niou has lived in the Financial District for about two years and is chief of staff to Assemblyman Ron Kim of Queens. She has the strong backing of Virginia Kee, the co-founder of the United Democratic Organization (UDO), Chinatown’s only political club. Chin and Kee are longtime rivals. While Chin is supporting Cancel in the special election, the Council member told us today she would be backing another candidate, Gigi Li, in the regularly scheduled Democratic Primary in September.
Chin is well aware her decision will be a controversial one in Chinatown. “For me, it’s a very clear choice,” said Chin. “I hope that the community, especially the Chinese community, know that we don’t just vote for someone because they’re Chinese.”
Cancel, a resident of Southbridge Towers, has served as a district leader for the past 25 years. Her opponents and newspaper stories have portrayed Cancel as a “crony” of Sheldon Silver, the former speaker soon headed to prison for federal corruption crimes. Silver’s political organization, the Truman Democratic Club, provided critical support to Cancel when the Democratic County Committee chose her as the party’s nominee. “In the last few months,” said Council member Mendez, “she’s been attacked, and I don’t know why. She has done nothing wrong but to work and represent the people in this district.” Referencing the supporters from public housing developments in attendance, Mendez added, “She was content being district leader and never seeking higher office, except all of these people here — not once, not twice but multiple times — asked Alice to run.”
Aixa Torres, tenant president of the Smith Houses, said she was chosen by other community members to take Cancel to lunch and urge her to get in the race. “It was the community,” explained Torres, “not any elected official, not any club. It was this community of leaders who got together to say, ‘Alice, we need for you to run.’” Nancy Ortiz, tenant president of the Vladeck Houses, also spoke today, saying, “It is our community and we want someone to represent us from our community.”
Last week, Yuh-Line Niou was endorsed by two local representatives, State Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh. Other prominent backers include City Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Sen. Brad Hoylman, Congresswoman Grace Meng, Council member Ritchie Torres and an array of labor unions with ties to the Working Families Party.
UPDATE 2:01 p.m. Here’s reaction from Yuh-Line Niou’s campaign:
We knew that Shelly Silver’s allies would be working to elect Alice Cancel, so we’re not surprised to see Margaret Chin lining up with the status quo to stand against reform. Margaret’s support has a two week expiration date because she is supporting a different candidate in September, and this is exactly the kind of cynical politics and deal-making that has led to so much voter anger at Albany. In fact, Yuh-Line Niou has generated massive support from progressive leaders in this district and across the city because she represents a break from the past and a new, more responsive voice for downtown residents. That’s why she’s been endorsed by the UFT, the Hotel Trades Council, Tenants PAC, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Congressmember Grace Meng, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr, State Senators Dan Squadron and Brad Hoylman, and Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal. Lower Manhattan deserves better than clubhouse politics and cynical gamesmanship.