Publisher Lee declares run for Meng seat

Myungsuk Lee stands with supporters as he announces his run for state Assembly. Photo by Joe Anuta
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The owner of a Korean newspaper announced his candidacy for the newly created Flushing state Assembly seat and provided a candid account of Queens politics in the process.

Myungsuk Lee, 49, owner of Korean American Times, is the latest Asian candidate hoping to fill the vacuum created by Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) after she decided to run for Congress.

“It’s my top priority for every ethnic group to live together in harmony and peace,” said Lee, speaking at a kick-off event at a Korean restaurant.

Lee had sought the endorsement of the Queens Democratic Party on the advice of several lawmakers, including Meng, City Comptroller John Liu and City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing), he said, but the county eventually went with another Korean candidate: Ron Kim.

Lee had hoped that only one Korean candidate would run for the seat and thus avoid a split similar to the 2009 race for the Flushing Council seat, which pitted S.J. Jung and John Choe against each other. Neither won the Democratic primary.

In April, Lee said he began calling potential candidates who would be interested in running, including Ron Kim, but found none. So on May 4 he announced his candidacy to the Korean news media and informed political circles of his intentions.

Liu advised Lee to raise money to show the party he was serious, and the comptroller helped set up a meeting with district leaders and county party chairman U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), Lee said.

But during a May 29 meeting, after Lee had raised $100,000, the party instead decided to go with Ron Kim. Out of the three district leaders who helped the party pick which candidate to endorse, two work in Liu’s office and the third was absent from the meeting.

“I thought I would be endorsed by the party,” Lee said. “I was shocked. I was very surprised.”

George Artz, spokesman for Liu, said Lee’s account of the events was full of inaccuracies, but did not elaborate.

Lee cited the fact that he has already raised $100,000 and that Kim has already been endorsed by the party, as to why they will inevitably face off in a Democratic primary.

“This is a huge disadvantage for the Korean community,” he said.

Lee was formerly president of the Korean Chamber of Commerce and the Korean American Association of Queens and is a member of Community Board 7 — all of which he said makes him more qualified than Kim, who also once worked under Liu and was most recently employed by Parkside Associates, the lobbying firm most closely associated with the borough Democratic Party.

The district was carved out during the decennial redistricting process this year to be more than 60 percent Asian.

Flushing is currently represented by Meng, who could still technically run for the seat if she loses the congressional primary.

But in her absence the list of hopefuls for the seat is growing.

The Democratic field will likely grow larger, with longtime Flushing political figures including Ethel Chen and Martha Flores-Vasquez indicating they will run. A comic book store owner named John Scandalios has also said he is running.

Flushing business owner Phil Gim was endorsed by the Queens Republicans to run. He may face a primary from two other Republican candidates, Hank Yeh and Sunny Hahn, who have also announced their intentions.

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

Updated 12:27 pm, June 18, 2012
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