In a sharp rebuke Wednesday, a federal judge denied Democrats an emergency injunction to impose New York congressional-district lines the state Court of Appeals found unconstitutional last week. Granting the request, the judge said, would impinge upon “free, open, rational elections.”
Newly politically active Asian Americans are watching these proceedings carefully. We have more reasons than ever before to vote, but the partisan redistricting chaos makes our efforts to be seen and heard even more difficult — especially when our communities are horse-traded as part of partisan gerrymandering and long-time incumbents refuse to speak with us.
To shore up incumbent Democrats, Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s unconstitutionally drawn district was to include Chinatown and the largest Chinese community in Brooklyn. With the goal of helping Asian voters get to know the contenders, I invited Nadler to participate in the Asian Wave Alliance candidate forum. His campaign not only refused to come but expressed his disdain for the new Asian political club I co-founded, simply because we chose to be nonpartisan.
Nadler campaign staffer Robert Gottheim wrote, “Congressman Nadler does not seek an endorsement of a political organization that supports Republicans nor does he want to speak at a club that is involved in supporting Republican candidates for office. He supports Democrats and only Democrats for public office; the ideals of the party of Donald Trump and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy are not ones he wants to support or seek the endorsement of local groups that endorse Republicans.”
As a newly engaged voter and active campaign volunteer, I recently discovered the world of political clubs. Many clubs are specific to a political party and electoral district, but some are issue-driven like Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, whose endorsement Nadler seeks.
Local partisan clubs make sense when local issues and party politics are the voter’s priorities. Many freshly politically engaged Asian New Yorkers, however, are driven by broader issues — specifically safety, education and the economy — not party loyalty.
Our first steps as participants in our own democracy are often attending rallies — rallies against the former mayor’s attack on specialized high schools, rallies against the borough-based jails and rallies against homeless shelters slated for our neighborhoods. We seem to be constantly protesting plans decided for our communities by others who don’t come from or live in them or share our concerns and priorities.
We started AWA to rectify that, making sure Asian communities are heard and respected by decision-makers. We saw a void, the need for a citywide political club to serve our growing Asian communities, particularly in Queens and Brooklyn, and we decided our club would be nonpartisan and issue-focused to respect the breadth of opinions in the awakening Asian-American communities.
Ironically, the state Senate Democratic spokesman argued Democrats drew the new congressional maps with Asian Americans in mind, keeping us together so we can have improved representation.
Nadler, an outspoken critic of Republican gerrymandering, represents Congressional District 10, an infamous example of unconstitutional Democratic gerrymandering. The Democratic-drawn district would be 27% Asian and include Manhattan’s Chinatown as well as the Asian neighborhoods of Brooklyn: Sunset Park, Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights. The plan would have Nadler represent Asian communities new to him despite 30 years in Congress. You’d think he would welcome the opportunity to engage with politically minded Asians to understand our concerns and how he could best represent his new constituents.
Instead of respectful engagement, I received a tirade when I invited the congressman to our new club — the only citywide club dedicated solely to issues of concern to Asian Americans. I was scolded for inviting Nadler to a club that would even speak to Republican candidates.
As an Asian New Yorker, I want to support candidates who will listen to and represent my community’s interests. For this year’s elections, public safety, education and the economy are top of mind. Asian families are worried about educational opportunities for their kids and worried about persistent anti-Asian discrimination in high school and college admissions.
We are scared. We live our daily lives in fear of hateful attacks. We are another group fatigued by “thoughts and prayers” and inaction.
City plans to build new jails and homeless shelters in Asian neighborhoods would add insult to injury and decimate the fragile communities we’ve built. We are worried about inflation, property taxes and earning a living wage.
We are not unlike other Americans who want to elect leaders who will represent us and fight for us so we can have better lives for ourselves and our children. We need elected leaders who will represent the concerns of all constituents, not just those who belong to a certain party.
Asian New Yorkers want to know: Will Jerry Nadler represent only Democrats in his new district, however it looks? What about independents, the unaffiliated, Republicans and the newly “politically homeless” former Democrats? What about the Asians in his Democratic-drawn district? Don’t we deserve to be heard and represented, even those who vote on issues, not out of party loyalty?
Yiatin Chu is president of Asian Wave Alliance, a new nonpartisan political club for Asian New Yorkers.