By Alexander Dworkowitz
In a historic election, Democrat John Liu won the race for Councilwoman Julia Harrison’s (D-Flushing) seat and became the first Asian American elected to the City Council, unofficial results showed.
Liu, who received 62 percent of the vote, defeated Republican Ryan Walsh with 29 percent, Independent Martha Flores-Vazquez with 3 percent, and Green Paul Graziano with 6 percent, based on returns from 33 percent of precincts.
“We kicked some butt,” said Liu late Tuesday night. “The voters knew the issues, agreed with them, and the people have spoken. I’m tremendously honored.”
Liu, who immigrated from Taiwan at the age of five, will become the first Asian-American to sit on the Council in the city’s history, symbolizing the growth of both Flushing’s and New York’s Asian-American population in recent years.
According to the 2000 census, the five communities that make up Flushing — Auburndale, Bowne Park, East Flushing, Flushing and Murray Hill — have a larger population of Asian-Americans than non-Hispanic whites, with 40 percent of the people in Flushing identifying themselves as Asian American. Council District 20, which covers Flushing and Queensboro Hill as well as parts of Fresh Meadows, Auburndale, Linden Hill, Murray Hill and Whitestone, comprises most but not all of the communities described as Flushing in the census.
Liu’s victory marks the end of one of the most closely watched and controversial campaigns in the city.
During the summer, two candidates came out with charges against two others. Graziano took Walsh to court for problems with the petitions Walsh filed with the Board of Elections. The court concluded that Walsh’s petitions were “permeated with fraud” but left him on the ballot because of a legal technicality.
At the same time, Ethel Chen, one of Liu’s opponents in the Sept. 25 primary, filed a complaint about Liu with the city Department of Investigation. Chen charged Liu with not recusing himself from a Community Board 7 vote which involved a developer from whom he had taken campaign contributions.
Liu outlasted his three Democratic opponents in the Sept. 25 primary, defeating Chen by a slim margin of 201 votes. Meanwhile, Graziano and Evergreen Chou tied in the only Green Party city council primary, 17-17. A meeting of the Queens County Green Party eventually voted Graziano the winner.
After Liu defeated Chen in the race, Chen continued to dog Liu, filing a challenge to the results on Oct. 5.
The race did not get much easier for Liu after the Democratic primary as Graziano continued to attack Liu.
“Two of the four people sitting here today had had serious ethics violations,” said Graziano at an Oct. 23 debate, referring to both Walsh and Liu.
Each one of the candidates represented a possible first for Flushing. Liu sought to become the district’s first Asian-American representative, Flores-Vazquez the district’s first Hispanic representative, Walsh the first Republican representative, and Graziano the first Green Party representative.
When asked how he would work to unite Flushing after the sometimes acrimonious campaign, Liu said “we need to stop focusing on the differences we have. We need to start talking about what we all have in common.”
Reach Reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.