Republican City Councilmember Peter Koo rang in the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dragon, by becoming Democrat City Councilmember Peter Koo. This might seem very appropriate as Dragons are said to be highly ambitious, driven and unafraid to take risks.
That is good, because this just may be the biggest gamble of Koo’s short political career. Koo was said to be worried about re-election in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans five to one. Afraid that very popular Assemblymember Grace Meng might run against him, Koo seems to have wowed Democratic leaders and now the word is that Meng will look to run for Borough President with party support.
But all might not be secure, for now Koo has to worry about Democratic Primary challengers, who might be able to exploit Koo’s party switch with hardcore, primary-voting Democrats. Party switchers are rarely successful if their switch comes while in office.
Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter is a perfect example. Complaining that the Republican Party was too conservative for him, and afraid of a challenge from his right, Specter finally switched and became a Democrat. Seen as untrustworthy by both sides, Specter was easily defeated in a Democratic primary.
Koo cited differences with national Republicans, and the slate of presidential contenders specifically, especially as it pertains to immigration, as a major deciding factor in his switch. At Koo’s registration change press conference, Assemblymember Rory Lancman arrogantly remarked, “he’s a nice guy, he likes people, he likes the immigrant community.” This was meant to be a slap at Republicans playing on Koo’s immigration excuse.
Meanwhile, only Republicans have actually offered solutions to the problems surrounding illegal immigration. With discussions of guest worker programs, amnesty and making the byzantine immigration process easier and less costly, Republicans are proving to be more immigrant-friendly than Democrats, who seem fine with the status quo of millions of immigrants living in the shadows and being exploited in sweatshops or as slave labor.
Koo also complained about Republican Party outreach in the Asian community. Meanwhile, it was Republican outreach that led to Koo being sought out and asked to run for office. It was expected that Republicans could work with Koo to register Republicans and build a strong Asian following in Flushing. That never quite materialized, and unfortunately never will.
However, the Koo experience was a valuable one for Queens Republicans. It set the blueprint for Republicans on how to reach out in immigrant and minority communities. It showed that by working with respected members of the community who share the majority of conservative, pro-family, pro-business beliefs held by most Republicans and also by most immigrants, Republicans can be successful in immigrant communities.
*On Saturday, January 28, the Queens GOP is holding a Candidates School at the Adria Hotel in Bayside from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Anyone interested in running for office anywhere in Queens should attend. Details are on their web site at www.QGOP.org.
Robert Hornak is a Queens-based political consultant, blogger, and an active member of the Queens Republican Party. The views expressed here are his own.