The District 20 City Council race last week was determined not so much by the candidates’ stances on issues, but rather by their visibility and commitment to the communities they were vying to represent, say Democratic leaders and observers.
Republican City Councilman-elect Peter Koo has deep roots in the Flushing area, where he started the Starside Pharmacy chain in 1991 and has served for years on various local boards and civic organizations. He is well-known by Flushing residents, particularly among the Chinese-American population, and was largely described at the polls on Nov. 3 as “a good person” or “polite” by voters who said they supported him.
Defeated Democrat candidate Yen Chou has not been in the community for as long, having moved to the district from Bayside last year. That fact, combined with the negative tone of her campaign, her weak voting record and spotty history of relevant experience combined to create a candidate many voters could not trust with the future of their neighborhood, many Democratic Party defectors have said.
“She helped herself go down. We conceded; she was the one to help our Democratic Party lose this seat,” said Ethel Chen, founder of the Asian-American Democrat Association of Queens and a Democrat since 1971 who supported Koo in the election. “She never participated so people thought she was phony. Her negative campaign and her qualifications couldn’t convince people to vote for her. We consider her a rotten apple.”
But Chou’s supporters say they are surprised at the election result, saying her loss was due in large part to issues with getting their message out to voters.
“Certain information was not fully disclosed to voters. We tried our best but apparently we didn’t do well enough,” said Hank Yeh, treasurer for the Chou campaign, as he closed down the campaign’s office Monday afternoon. “I think the energized levels were the same, but the media covered us a lot less.”
Yeh also said Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s successful candidacy drew some traditional Democrats away from the party and that turnout was lower among many non-Asian district residents, many of whom consistently vote Democratic, because both candidates were of Chinese birth.
Terence Park, leader of Our Flushing Political Coalition and a self-described “die-hard Democrat” who has run for political office as a Democrat, summed up the sentiments of party-crossing Dems like himself.
“At the end, this was not Democrat versus Democrat, but it was a choice to make between who was the better candidate for the community,” he said. “Voters here are not dead, they are not just blindly following the party line. They are awake and people have to put in their time in the community.”
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cn
©2009 Community News Group
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