At the New York mayor’s next primary, Jimmy Cheng, 60, plans to do the same for Andrew Yang as he did for John Liu eight years ago. Back then, he would get up before sunrise and walk around Chinatown polling stations until they closed, handing out flyers for Liu, then the New York City Comptroller and the first Chinese American on the ballot paper for the top city office.
Liu was losing ground in the polls after his campaign associates were condemned illegal fundraising practices and had little chance of winning. But Cheng, the chairman of the American Chinese Voters Alliance Corp, an organization aimed at increasing voter turnout for Chinese voters, believed that if Chinatown voters could help Liu beat his own polls, it would be valuable to the community. , even if he did not do it ” double.
Maybe it worked. Liu got 7% of the vote, three percentage points above his position in the latest Quinnipiac poll before the election. And in Manhattan’s Chinatown, he won 80% of the vote.
This year, even with Yang high in the polls, Cheng is left with a more difficult task. Compared to the 2013 primary, when the Chinese-American community was almost unanimous in supporting Liu, some community leaders publicly endorsed Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Yang’s biggest rival in the race. .
“I have known Adams for many years and I have friends who criticize me for not supporting him,” Cheng said. “But as a Chinese-American, is it wrong for me to support a Chinese-American candidate?” Cheng is not the only person to push back criticism from his social circle. Chinese community leaders, many of whom are friends and often eat together, now avoid their group lunches and dinners to avoid conflict.
William Su, a Chinatown hotel owner who supports Yang, said he was approached by an old friend who is an Adams supporter when they crossed paths at a dinner party. Steven Wong, president of the Hotel Chinese Association, an organization providing social services to employees of Chinese hotels, told Curbed he was forced to post his endorsement of Adams on WeChat, the media platform. popular among Chinese users, to stop being harassed by Yang. -support friends. Both sides regularly exchange insults on the platform, with people on opposite sides saying they are stupid or worse. In some WeChat groups, users have started calling Adams’s Chinese followers as traitors to their own race.
It is rare for the Chinese-American community in New York to split up like this. He has a long history of rallying to Sino-American candidates. But it is already erupted by fighting over the city’s plan to reform admissions to specialized high schools (many of which fear reducing their chances of admissions) and concerns about rising crime rates, especially attacks targeting Asian residents.
Asian Americans, who make up 15% of the city’s population, now make up about 8% of its voters. In a close election like this, in which Yang had led well until Adams recently walked past him, a few points count. And if the results of the last general election are any indicator, the voting behavior of this bloc is unpredictable. Asian New Yorkers have voted overwhelmingly for Democrats since 2000 – but in Manhattan’s Chinatown, Flushing and Sunset Park, Donald Trump was seen as the pro-meritocracy and anti-affirmative candidate by many Chinese voters, and he has received a greater number of ballots in 2020 than he had done four years earlier. In a downtown Flushing neighborhood, Trump garnered 41 percent of the vote, 29 percentage points more than in 2016.
Adams and Yang are now fighting each other for these voters. Many of them consider this breed to be one of the most important in their lives. “When Liu showed up, it was right after the Bloomberg administration, and New York City was in great shape,” said Jerry Lo, a seasoned community activist who helped organize large protests against specialized admissions reform in the city’s high schools and against police defunding, two key issues that galvanize the more conservative factions in the community. “Today we Chinese are at a critical juncture and the stakes are high.”
In fact, the positions of the two candidates on these subjects are similar. Yang and Adams oppose postponement of police funding and support retention of SHSAT, the entrance test to special schools that the mayor of Blasio tried to reject, in order to address low student admission rates black and Hispanic. Adams marks with those voters for promising to uphold the current admissions policy, while Yang calls for adding other factors to the admissions process, such as teacher recommendations and personal statements. Lo, 62, has already supported Yang, but decided to support Adams instead. “Do you think an Asian mayor would like to fight hard for us and risk being judged as against blacks and Hispanics?” He asked.
Among elected officials who have some influence over the city’s Asian voters, Yang has won the endorsement of Congresswoman Grace Meng, a major boost to her campaign, and City Council member Margaret Chin. However, Peter Koo, the only other member of the Asian American city council, supports Adams. John Liu, who is now a state senator, says he’s still deciding. “Ethnic pride is part of the equation. But I never saw it as the only factor in the equation, ”Liu said. “Andrew is a very good candidate. His downside is probably that people don’t know him very well, whereas people have known Eric for many years and Eric works hard in the community.
Photo: Erik McGregor / LightRocket via Getty Images
Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty Images
Adams’s background in the Chinese community is well known. The contestant himself likes to talk about how, when he was a cop in New York City, he helped hand out an award for catching those who killed a Chinese delivery boy around 20 years ago. As president of the Brooklyn Borough, he promoted a project (and devoted $ 2 million in funds) to bring a Beijing Chinese Arcade at Sunset Park. While the ark project has stalled, Adams’ involvement has helped him build extensive relationships in the community. He often appears at traditional ceremonies of the Chinese community wearing a red silk jacket embroidered with golden dragons. “Adams loves Chinese culture. He is closer to the Chinese community than Yang, ”said Wong, the head of the China Hotel Association, who pointed out that Yang, unlike Adams, had no engagement with the Chinese community until he ‘he is running for president. Before Yang announced his mayoral campaign in December, many community leaders were leaning towards Adams.
But Yang’s Asian face alone was enough to knock it down. “I’m closer to Eric personally,” said Jimmy Li, 42, president of the Asian American Democratic Club, which endorsed Yang. “But when Asians are attacked by hate crimes and racists tell us to ‘return to your own country’, Yang’s election would make us visible and send a message that ‘we belong.’ He could be Barack Obama of Asians.
Beyond the simple fact of his ethnicity, however, Yang’s cultural ties seem, to some observers, weak. “Sometimes it seems that Yang doesn’t understand Chinese culture as well as some non-Chinese,” said John Chan, 67, president of Asian American Community Empowerment, an organization based in Sunset Park that defends the civil rights of Americans. of Chinese origin. When Yang posted on twitter About his childhood memory of eating moon cakes during the Lunar New Year holidays, followers pointed out that these are traditionally reserved for the Mid-Autumn Festival and called him “whitewashed” “. And in a Washington To post In an editorial last April, Yang confessed that he once felt “ashamed” for being Asian and called on Asian Americans to “show our Americanness” to fight growing anti-Asian hatred. It turned against them. At a recent rally in Chinatown, a passer-by asked Yang in Chinese if he still felt “ashamed,” to which he avoided answering.
In fact, Yang’s public positions on a wide range of political issues have pushed back two poles of the Sino-US electoral base. While he initially enjoyed the backing of young Asian American liberals, especially during the launch of his presidential candidacy, hundreds of progressive Asian Americans recently signed a public letter opposing his candidacy for mayor. Meanwhile, his flagship campaign promise of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) – or at least something that looks like him – also not suitable for conservative Chinese. “Handing out free money to people seems like socialism to me. If I liked socialism, why did I come to the United States? Asked Andrew Tai, 51, a registered Democrat who voted for Trump last year. Tai, who works as a private math teacher, not only decided to vote for Adams, but also told his students’ parents not to vote for Yang.
Adams is not above reproach either. Some Chinese-American executives were disappointed with his reaction to a 2018 brawl at a Brooklyn nail salon between Chinese employees and black clients over a payment of $ 5. As chairman of the borough, Adams supported the district attorney’s decision to drop charges against a black client. This year, when Yong Zheng, a Chinese Good Samaritan, was killed by a group of black thieves in Sunset Park, Adams did not mention it. “I lean over to Adams. But I haven’t made a decision yet because of these incidents, ”said Chan of the AACE.
Yang’s campaign did not respond to Curbed’s demands. Jose Bayona, senior advisor for the Adams campaign, said Adams “will never pit one community against another … he will continue to mediate conflicts and misunderstandings as mayor for all New- Yorker. “
“I don’t think unity among the Chinese can be achieved anytime soon,” Chan said. “This is of course not a good thing for the community.” But others, like Liu, believe that the most effective way for a minority voting bloc to flex its power in an election is not through unity, but with a high turnout. With the narrow margins between applicants and the high level of anxiety about the future, this is likely to happen this year. Even those campaigning for their favorite candidates agree this is the silver lining in the division. “Fierce competition among candidates is not a bad thing, as long as we all rightly support our views,” Cheng said. “And that increases the participation rate.”