Leading up to election day on Nov. 7, City Council member Margaret Chin is taking a more assertive approach in fending off opponents for her District 1 seat.
In the past week, her campaign sent a letter to New York City District Attorney Cy Vance, asking him to look into alleged voter fraud by Chinatown activist Steven Wong, an outspoken supporter of Christopher Marte, Chin’s main nemesis. The Chin campaign cited evidence that Wong and an associate, Poo Leon, illegally listed a Mott Street address on absentee voter forms. The address allegedly corresponds — not to a legitimate residence — but to the office of the Hotel Chinese Association, an organization Wong leads.
The complaint, and the Chin campaign’s decision to distribute the letter to reporters, is an indication that the two-term Council member has decided to go on the offensive. In last month’s Democratic Primary, she edged out Marte by just 222 votes. The results were not certified by the Board of Elections until two weeks after the election, when absentee and provisional ballots were counted. The close race surprised political insiders and prompted Marte to run against Chin in the general election (on the Independence Party line). During the primary campaign, Council member Chin mostly ignored a constant stream of attacks from her opponents. Many of Chin’s supporters have been urging a more aggressive stance in the general election campaign.
Wong is a well known figure in Chinatown. He was a leading operative in Chin’s 2009 campaign, but turned on her four years later, supporting candidate Jenifer Rajkumar. At a candidate debate we attended in the weeks leading up to this year’s primary, Wong was heckling Chin from the audience. You may have seen (or heard) him in the days before the primary tooling around in this tricked out truck, which was blaring pro-Christopher Marte messages on a loudspeaker.
A few days ago, we heard from Jake Dilemani, a political strategist with Mercury Public Affairs, which is advising Margaret Chin. He wanted to make sure we saw the complaint sent to the district attorney, as well as a press release that accused the Marte campaign of harassing and intimidating elderly Chinese voters (we previously reported details of these allegations here).
We asked Dilemani what led the Chin campaign to level the voter intimidation charge. “Several observers,” said Dilemani, “saw Marte volunteers misleading voters about” where they were supposed to vote. “They were also found to be generally menacing toward these voters,” he said, and Council member Chin was told directly by seniors that they had been harassed. He added, “A longtime Democratic District Leader from Chinatown has told us her volunteers, as well as Chin campaign volunteers, experienced various incidents of intimidation on Primary day, including Marte’s campaign staff screaming in front of poll sites, scaring off potential voters.”
Margaret Chin has always had her detractors in Chinatown, some of them going back decades to her time as a housing organizer. Wong is among a group of local activists who aligned against Chin this year, possibly hurting the Council member on her home political turf. Dilemani said of the former Chin loyalist, “Steven Wong does not represent a group of Chinatown activists – he represents himself and practices petty, personal politics.”
Wong did not respond to an email and phone call from The Lo-Down.
In an interview, Christopher Marte called the intimidation accusations from the Chin campaign false. “We did not do any of the things they’re saying,” asserted Marte. “People know we are respectful of every candidate, and that we were out there in the streets every day encouraging everyone to come out and vote.” In a statement, he said, “Our campaign staff and volunteers, which included Chinese seniors, did not intimidate or harass any voters. They are people who care about their community, and we are grateful for their hard work on this local campaign.”
In the Nov. 7 general election, Chin will face Marte and Republican Bryan Jung, as well as Aaron Foldenauer, who’s running on the Liberal Party Line. Foldenauer also filed a complaint with the DA, claiming “the deceptive registration of voters at P.O. Boxes… fraudulent addresses in Margaret Chin’s stronghold (in Chinatown).”
Dilemani scoffed at Foldenauer’s claims, saying, “Republican Aaron Foldenauer’s entire campaign has consisted of baseless attacks. With zero support from the community, and zero chance of winning, it’s no surprise that he is now resorting to thinly veiled racist attacks against Chinese voters. Aaron Foldenauer and his fabrications have no place in public office, but he may want to try a career in creative writing.”
Foldenauer was registered as a Republican until last year.
UPDATE 8:49 p.m. Steven Wong returned our phone call this evening. In an interview, Wong conceded that he used a Chinatown office address on his absentee voter form, rather than his residential address. Wong lives uptown and is not a registered voter in District 1. Wong told us he has been using the Chinatown address, 98 Mott St., since 2009. Wong said he began listing the Chinatown address eight years ago at the urging of someone in Margaret Chin’s campaign, and has been using it ever since in multiple elections. He declined to say who allegedly told him to use the District 1 address on his voter forms.
We talked about his reasons for opposing Chin after strongly backing her eight years ago. Wong said there have been claims from the Chin team that he turned on the Council member because she refused to give him a staff job after winning the 2009 election. Wong called these claims ridiculous, saying there’s no way he could have supported his family on a City Council staff salary. Wong said he switched his allegiance to other candidates because he believes Chin did not deliver for the community. Wong cited the continued closure of Park Row following 9/11, saying that Chin simply didn’t fight hard enough on an issue of critical importance to the Chinatown small business community. Wong said he was excited to help elect a Chinese American to represent Chinatown, but became disenchanted over time with Chin’s advocacy for the neighborhood.
Wong said the Marte campaign did not harass or intimidate any voters in Chinatown. If anything, he claimed, Margaret Chin operatives at Confucius Plaza violated election rules by campaigning too close to poll sites.
UPDATE 10/10 As we reported last night, Steven Wong said someone in the 2009 Chin campaign told him to list the Mott Street address on his voter form. Today Chin campaign spokesperson Jake Dilemani responded, saying, “It is unequivocally false that someone from the 2009 Chin campaign told him to register fraudulently.” A separate statement from the campaign added, “(Christopher) Marte must either disavow Wong and Leon’s support given these disturbing allegations, or he must explain why he stands with them in solidarity despite evidence linking them to blatant voter fraud.”