Margaret Chin Likely to Win New York City Council Seat

Chinatown is likely to get its first Chinese-American representative on the City Council, and a Taiwanese immigrant is headed for citywide office — a dramatic change for the nation’s largest city, which had no Asian-Americans in elected office just eight years ago.

For the first time in its 150 years, the downtown Manhattan neighborhood, which is one of the biggest Chinese communities outside Asia, could be represented by a Chinese-American. Margaret Chin, whose family emigrated from Hong Kong in 1963, when she was 9, beat incumbent Alan Gerson in a Democratic primary last month and is expected to win the seat in November.

Chin, a community organizer and immigrant advocate who speaks three Chinese dialects, is heavily favored to beat Republican Irene Horvath. She said it was exciting to finally break the barrier.

“People want to get involved and want to be part of the mainstream and want to make sure that the community that they come from is represented,” Chin said. “The dynamics of the city are changing.”

Margaret Chin grew up in NYC Chinatown and graduated from the Bronx High School of Science and from the City College of New York (CCNY) with a degree in education. While taking Asian Studies courses at City College Chin became involved in community organizing and spent the next 14 years at LaGuardia Community College’s Division of Adult and Continuing Education helping immigrant adults get a college education.

For the past 11 years Margaret worked at Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), an organization that she helped start while in college. As the deputy executive director, Margaret led the organization’s work in advocacy, community organizing and coalition building. She fought for the preservation and building of affordable housing; better access to government services; equal opportunity and fair treatment, for immigrants, low income and working families. Chin left her AAFE post at the end of August 2008 to focus on her City Council Campaign. Chin had run unsuccessfully for City Council in 1991, 1993 and 2001.

Margaret Chin is married to Alan Tung, a public school teacher at P.S. 3 in Greenwich Village. Their son Kevin graduated from the Bronx High School of Science and Syracuse University. Chin’s mother is a retired garment worker who still lives in Chinatown.

Chin’s primary success coincided with John Liu’s successful bid to win the Democratic primary runoff for comptroller, the city’s chief financial officer and one of its top three elected positions. Liu, whose family emigrated from Taiwan when he was a child, is on his way to becoming the first Asian-American to hold citywide office in New York City.

Liu, a Queens councilman, beat fellow Councilman David Yassky in the runoff and is expected to win the Nov. 3 general election against lesser-known Republican Joe Mendola.

Experts say Liu’s primary campaign, along with a handful of local races in which Asian-American candidates were running, helped fuel unprecedented enthusiasm among Asian-American voters.

“There’s definitely a sense of excitement — it has an energizing effect that led to a turnout surge,” said Democratic strategist Evan Stavisky, who is working for Chin and worked for Liu’s past campaigns.

In Chinatown, Chinese-Americans have run for City Council before — including Chin three times. But several factors, including low Asian turnout in past primaries and multiple Asian candidates splitting the vote, prevented their victories.

Asians account for about 12 percent of the city’s 8.3 million people, compared to blacks’ 25 percent and Hispanics’ 27 percent. They represent just less than 5 percent of registered voters, according to Stavisky’s analysis of enrollment data.

The primary on Sept. 15, when Liu was running in a four-way race and several other Asian-Americans were seeking council seats, brought out many first-time Asian voters.

An analysis of results from the Sept. 29 runoff showed Liu was propelled not only by Asian-American voters but also by strong backing from blacks and Hispanics. He had campaigned with black leaders including the Rev. Al Sharpton and highlighted his record on civil rights and racial equality.