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Asians hope to win first city council seat

Ten Asian-American city council candidates from Queens introduced themselves to voters at a reception in Manhattan Tuesday and explained why they believe it is important for an Asian American to be elected to the city’s legislative body for the first time in history.

The reception, attended by more than 150 people, was held at City Hall, a swanky restaurant on Duane Street in Manhattan, and was hosted by the Asian American Federation of New York, a non-profit leadership organization. Each of the 13 Asian-American candidates who attended the event, including three who are not from Queens, was asked to briefly answer one question: Why is it important to be an Asian-American candidate?

While the candidates did not downplay the significance of potentially becoming the first Asian-American elected to the Council, they did stress that the issues were just as important as turning a corner in city governance.

In Queens, a borough where all 14 council members are being forced out because of term limits, there are 10 Asian-Americans vying for office, four of whom — Ethel Chen, Evergreen Chou, John Liu and Terence Park — are seeking the seat in Flushing. The six others — Morshed Alam, Louisa Chan, Renu Lobo, Trevor Rupnarain, Inderjit Singh and Jairam Thakral — are running for seats in Forest Hills, Hollis, Jackson Heights and Jamaica.

“This is a historic year,” said John Liu, a Democrat for the council seat in Flushing. “We have the best opportunity in a long time to finally elect an Asian-American to the City Council.”

In 1997 Liu, who has raised more money than any other council candidate, made a run for the same Flushing seat. He and another Asian-American candidate at the time, Pauline Chu, faced off against incumbent Julia Harrison but lost to her in the Democratic primary. This year there are nine candidates running for her seat, at least six of whom are Democrats.

“The people are voting on the issues, not just because you’re Asian American,” Liu said. “So we talk about the important issues: good schools, safe streets, quality of life. Those are issues that are important to Asian Americans; they are important to everyone.”

Jairam Thakral, a South Asian running for the seat in Hollis held by Councilman Sheldon Leffler, said he believes that his council district does not receive city funds in parity with others in the city, a sentiment repeated by many of the candidates.

“The resources that are allocated by City Hall or city government do not come our way,” he said.

In his remarks, Trevor Rupnarain, a Democrat running for Councilman Thomas White Jr.’s seat in Jamaica, went one step further, blaming the city for ignoring the needs of immigrants in his community.

“For over 10 years, I’ve been practicing law in my community,” he said. “I see the neglect by the establishment in areas of housing, in education, and all the quality-of-life matters. Most of the immigrants who don’t have the right to vote are being absolutely neglected.”

In interviews after the candidates spoke, many younger Asian Americans said it was time for an Asian American to be elected to the City Council, which would clear the path for other Asian Americans to follow.

“It’s significant” said Andy Woo, 22, an engineer who lives in Brooklyn and who works on Liu’s campaign and on Rocky Chin’s, a candidate in Chinatown. “It’s as significant as voting David Dinkins the first African-American mayor. That is why we need term limits, because it rejuvenates everything.”

Reach reporter Chris Fuchs by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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