- The Washington Times - Monday, October 5, 2009

NEW YORK | Chinatown is likely to get its first Chinese-American representative on the City Council, and a Taiwanese immigrant is headed for citywide office - a dramatic change for the nation’s most-populated city, which had no Asian-Americans in elected office just eight years ago.

For the first time in its 150 years, the downtown Manhattan neighborhood, which is one of the biggest Chinese communities outside Asia, could be represented by a Chinese-American. Margaret Chin, whose family emigrated from Hong Kong in 1963, when she was 9, beat incumbent Alan Gerson in a Democratic primary last month and is expected to win the seat in November.

Ms. Chin, a community organizer and immigrant advocate who speaks three Chinese dialects, is heavily favored to beat Irene Horvath, a Republican. She said it was exciting to finally break the barrier.

“People want to get involved and want to be part of the mainstream and want to make sure that the community that they come from is represented,” Ms. Chin said. “The dynamics of the city are changing.”

And John Liu last week won the Democratic primary runoff for comptroller, the city’s chief financial officer and one of its top three elected positions. Mr. Liu, whose family emigrated from Taiwan when he was a child, is on his way to becoming the first Asian-American to hold citywide office in New York City.

Mr. Liu, a Queens council member, beat fellow council member David Yassky in the runoff and is expected to win the Nov. 3 general election against lesser-known Joe Mendola, a Republican.

Experts say Mr. Liu’s primary campaign, along with a handful of local races in which Asian-American candidates were running, helped fuel unprecedented enthusiasm among Asian-American voters.

“There’s definitely a sense of excitement - it has an energizing effect that led to a turnout surge,” said Democratic strategist Evan Stavisky, who is working for Ms. Chin and worked for Mr. Liu’s past campaigns.

In Chinatown, Chinese-Americans have run for City Council before - including Ms. Chin three times. But several factors, including low Asian turnout in past primaries and multiple Asian candidates splitting the vote, prevented their victories.

Asians account for about 12 percent of the city’s 8.3 million people, compared with blacks’ 25 percent and Hispanics’ 27 percent. They represent just less than 5 percent of registered voters, according to Mr. Stavisky’s analysis of enrollment data.

The primary on Sept. 15, when Mr. Liu was running in a four-way race and several other Asian-Americans were seeking council seats, brought out many first-time Asian voters.

An analysis of results from the Sept. 29 runoff showed Mr. Liu was propelled not only by Asian-American voters but also by strong backing from blacks and Hispanics. He had campaigned with black leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, and highlighted his record on civil rights and racial equality.

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