Messer gets Chinese name in Flushing Assembly race

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John Messer, a candidate opposing state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) for a seat based around Flushing, is targeting his campaign at the Asian-American voters in the district.

Last week, Messer announced the promotion of Diana Her, former chief of staff to state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing), as his lead campaign manager in a widely distributed news release, but he also convened a news conference with his family exclusively for Chinese- and Korean-language news outlets.

“As you are aware, the 16th Senate District is incredibly diverse and our goal is to represent our communities equally and transparently so that no-one is under-represented,” Messer said in a statement.

Messer has also given himself a Chinese name, pronounced Qiang Ma Shi, and plastered the downtown Flushing area with posters depicting the Oakland Gardens businessman and lawyer along with his family, including his wife whose family is from China.

According to Messer, the separate characters mean strong; horse, which he defines as the hardest-working animal; and gentleman, though native Chinese speakers said that name does not sound natural.

On the other hand his opponent, state Sen. Toby Stavisky, garnered the support of many prominent Asian community leaders and lawmakers at her campaign kickoff announcement.

According to David Birdsell, dean of Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs, the tactic is a common one for politicians.

“What’s clear is that this is a growing component of the population, and to address that directly by making yourself available is a time-honored tactic of politicians for decades, if not centuries,” he said. “It’s smart and it’s nothing new.”

Catering to recent immigrants has a strong history, particularly in New York City, according to Birdsell, who said Tammany Hall politicians used to greet immigrants from Ireland as soon as they arrived off boats in the early 1920s.

About 53 percent of the district was identified as Asian, according to the state Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research, which drew the lines for the seat encompassing downtown Flushing, Queensboro Hill, Pomonok and parts of Forest Hills, Elmhurst, Rego Park, Fresh Meadows and Bayside.

The term “majority Asian” hardly defines a monolithic voting block, though, since residents from East Asian countries, including China and Korea, are grouped with residents who identify themselves as South Asian, which includes countries like India and Bangladesh and could have different community needs and different expectations in a possible representative of the area.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Posted 8:44 pm, August 15, 2012
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