They say that love conquers all. Last week Councilman Allan Jennings bet his political reputation, and perhaps future, on this worn, amorous adage. And lost.
According to a story that appeared March 16 in Newsday, Jennings ran in two major Chinese-language newspapers a half-page advertisement declaring his love for a Chinese woman. Since then, he has been the subject of criticism from journalists and fellow politicians.
Jennings claims that his ad, which also slammed his estranged Taiwanese wife, was meant to foster better relations between two cultures: Asian and his own, African-American.
"I always feel a warmth and love for the Chinese community," said Jennings, who represents Jamaica, Richmond Hill, Rochdale Village and South Ozone Park. He said he has a Chinese stepfather and a half Chinese stepbrother and stepsister.
"I am quite lucky that seven months ago, a new love appeared in my life," stated his ad, which appeared in the World Journal and the Tsing Tao Daily. "Her name is Li Yiling, she is from Yunnan, China. Ever since Li Yiling entered my life I have been very happy. Li Yiling has made me understand what true love is."
Jennings said that last year he decided to divorce his first wife because her family rejected him for being black.
"Her family never accepted me," read the ad. "My ex-wife explained this to me by saying. [sic] She felt that other people in the Chinese community would not accept her because of her marriage to someone of African descent."
Since the statement went public, Jennings wife, who asked that her name not be used, has said that their marriage failed because of domestic abuse. Published reports citing court and police records confirmed the charge last week.
During one attack, she said, her husband shoved her against a wall and choked her.
Jennings denied the accusation in a published interview.
Of Yiling, his new love, Jennings said: "Her family has welcomed me with open arms, her sisters, aunts, uncles, grandfather and grandparents have all kindly welcomed me as a member of their family."
Some Asians have expressed disapproval over the ad. Councilman John Liu, said he has received several phone calls from Chinese-Americans who are upset over the ads and their intimate look into his colleagues personal life.
"During the recent Valentines Day," read the ad, "I had to go to Albany for the weekend and was unable to spend that day with her. However, on February 13, on the eve before Valentines Day, we were together. A few days after I returned, we were together again enjoying our beautiful love."
Oddly, Yiling recently told Chinese reporters that she broke up with Jennings "a long time ago."
Liu said that his colleague has managed to portray Chinese women as a "commodity," and that he found the ads "somewhat offensive."
Jennings wife expressed ire that the advertisements were run in two of the largest Asian language papers.
"Anyone that is offended by that ad needs to see a psychiatrist," Jennings told Newsday. "And you should be careful, because if you are questioning the ad, then you are really saying there is something wrong with a tall and dark handsome guy who happens to have a Chinese girlfriend. That is sick."
The newly elected councilman has been the product of both praise and censure since taking office. Shortly after being elected, he drew criticism for spending $65,000 on renovations to his district office. Earlier this year he crosscut his own party by being one of three Democratic councilmen to vote against an 18.5% property tax increase.
But his constituency has also benefited from his representation. At a news conference at Public School 96 in South Ozone Park last week, he announced the procurement of $7.5 million for classroom computers.
Phone calls by The Queens Courier to Jennings had not been returned by press time.