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Jimmy Meng vies to be first Asian in Assembly

When Jimmy Meng first arrived in New York City in 1975, he had no intention of entering politics.

Instead, Meng, an immigrant from Taiwan who had spent a year studying in Oklahoma, simply wanted to find a job. He found one washing dishes in a Manhattan restaurant.

“I came from a very poor family, and I enjoyed making a living,” said Meng.

More than a quarter of a century later, Meng is hoping to become New York state’s first Asian-American assembly representative.

Meng, running as a Democrat, is one of seven people so far to declare their intentions to run for the newly created 22nd Assembly District seat in Flushing.

Also in the race are political insider Barry Grodenchik, who has been backed by the Democratic Party; Democratic District Leader Ethel Chen; Republican District Leader Meilin Tan, who won her party’s designation; Democratic activist Richard Jannaccio; Green Party candidate Evergreen Chou; and Democrat John Albert, a lawyer and political newcomer.

The 22nd Assembly District was drawn up by the state Legislature based on new demographic information in the 2000 Census, which showed a rise in Queens’ population compared to the rest of the state. This precipitated the need for more assembly seats in the borough. The district must survive a series of possible lawsuits before its lines become official.

The new district is 53.3 percent Asian, 20.1 percent white, 18.7 percent Hispanic and 4.5 percent black.

Meng, 58, who was born in China, moved to Taiwan with his family to escape the country’s civil war. He decided to become a teacher and worked at a junior high school, instructing students in English and literature.

In 1974, he arrived at Oklahoma State University to continue his studies.

“It was a shock,” Meng said of seeing how empty the Oklahoma town of Stillwater was in the summer in comparison to the heavily populated island of Taiwan.

The next year he moved to Corona. Working at odd jobs, Meng was given a small stake in a restaurant in Flushing by a friend and moved to Bayside.

“Every time I got four quarters I went to the bank, and (my friends) called me ‘Dollar Man.’” Meng recalled. “I didn’t eat much for lunch.”

In 1985, Meng began working at a Flushing lumber yard, learning the trade.

“My father used to own a small hardware store in Taiwan, and I am very interested in that type of business,” Meng said. “I met a lot of Italian, Jewish, Korean contractors and they helped me. I learned fast.”

He eventually became general manager of the Queens Lumber Company on College Point Boulevard.

Meng joined various Flushing-based organizations. He founded the Queens Chinese Voter Association and joined the Asian-American Coalition of Queens, two non-profit groups working to increase the political involvement of Asian-American voters.

In 1994, Meng became president of the Flushing Chinese Business Association, one of the more influential business groups in downtown Flushing.

Meng, who lives with his parents, wife, and children in Flushing, said his biggest goal as assemblyman is to create a Business Improvement District, a zone in which local businesses agree to pay a tax to fund improvements such as more frequent garbage collection and road improvements. A BID has so far eluded the downtown area.

“I think that’s the best way to have a solution to downtown Flushing,” he said.

Meng said he would work to make sure that business owners in downtown Flushing displayed their signs in English — not only Chinese or Korean.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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