Kathleen Horan, Reporter, WNYC News
Kathleen Horan is a staff reporter for New York Public Radio, covering the neighborhood beat. She also reports 'Reset', an ongoing series documenting police-community relations in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
New York, NY —
This weekend the candidates for City Comptroller, John Liu and David Yassky, are pulling out all the stops before the runoff election on Tuesday. It’s become a heated and tight race to be the city’s auditor, pension manager and financial watchdog.
Behind the scenes the campaigns are trying to energize voters because, ultimately, the result will come down to voter turnout. And there is particular energy among Asian-Americans as Liu attempts to be the first Asian elected to citywide office.
REPORTER: In a push to get out the vote, John Liu is speaking to commuters outside Brooklyn’s Bay Parkway subway station. He’s surrounded by volunteers holding signs and handing out flyers. Most of the men and women who’ve situated themselves on 66th Street are new to the world of politics. 60-year-old Flora Sheu is from Taiwan and works for a local senior center. She says – through the help of a translator – that Liu’s motivation on the campaign trail inspired her to get involved a few weeks ago.
SHEU: I think, with the volunteer team and in person also, we do see the passion that he’s really the one that wants to make a difference and care about the grass root people – and also whole city wide the whole picture.
REPORTER: Volunteer Andy Yu is also from Taiwan and works for a public service agency. He says he appreciates the work Liu did as a city council member for people in his neighborhood:
YU: All the Chinese community, while he was in the office of city council –we do see lots of the care… he sometimes even comes all the way from Queens to Bensonhurst when there’s an issue that he thinks he might be able to help – so we actually touched by such passion and dedication.
REPORTER: Sheu and Yu are not alone. They reflect a wider trend seen in the primary election two weeks ago. Although turnout was near an all-time low, not so among Asian Americans. Glen Magpantay with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund says in neighborhoods like Chinatown and Flushing, Queens many were newly mobilized:
MAGPANTAY: In our exit polling large numbers of Asian Americans were voting for the first time - they were very excited about these elections - 17 percent all Asian Americans we surveyed said this is the first elections in the U.S. they were voting.
REPORTER: Dennis Wu, no relation, is standing outside the H and T fruit stand near the Bay Parkway subway station watching the candidate talk to voters. You can see the dimples dent his cheeks as he looks on. Wu says he first learned about Liu when he volunteered for his “Youth Action Team” as a teenager…and he’s been inspired by his story ever since.
WU: Some of his commercials for his campaign online - show from a young, working Asian immigrant family - that’s the story that most of us live here – working their way up.
REPORTER: Wu’s just graduated from St. John’s College and is applying to law school and considering a career in politics. He says most of his Asian friends didn’t think a high ranking political post was a possibility.
WU: That’s what a lot of Asian students – or young children are thinking – that because they haven’t seen one yet – they think its not a legitimate possibility - and now we actually get to possibly witness one from the start to the end.
REPORTER: He says the city is watching more than just than one man’s bid to become comptroller:
WU: That’s his dream, but just know that his dream reaches a lot further than just for him – it reaches to everybody.
REPORTER: David Yassky has been on the trail too, collecting top endorsements and rallying seniors and residents in neighborhoods where people tend to vote more. He can’t claim to be making history in the city’s evolving story of ethnic politics but he says don't count him out:
YASSKY: Its terrific that members of the Asian-American community are taking pride in having an Asian-American run for citywide office and I'm sure that there will be high turnout in the Asian-American community - having said that I think there's going to be turnout in every community in all 5 boroughs of the city and within every community I think voters will look a the two candidates and choose based on our records of accomplishment in the Council.
REPORTER: The winner of the runoff is the overwhelming favorite going into November’s election, where he’ll face a Republican candidate, Joseph Mendola.