By Courtney Dentch
City Councilman Allan Jennings (D-Jamaica) last week defended advertisements he placed in two Chinese-language newspapers detailing his love life, saying the personal anecdotes were included as examples of his relationship with the Chinese community.
The half-page ads, which highlight his failed marriage to a Taiwanese woman and his relationship with a Chinese-American folk dancer, proclaimed the southeast Queens politician as a “Councilman with a Chinese Heart” and ran in the March 16 editions of the World Journal based in College Point and the Sing Tao Daily in Manhattan.
The ads featured three photographs of Jennings, including two with a woman, and several paragraphs of Chinese text, thanking the Chinese community for accepting him “as their son and brother.” The text also criticizes Jennings' ex-wife and her family, saying the fact that he is black was the reason the couple filed for divorce.
“In public places, especially in Chinese-American communities, my ex-wife would never admit I was her husband and because of her view of things, we decided last year to divorce,” the ad read.
Jennings, who represents Jamaica, South Jamaica, Richmond Hill, Rochdale Village, Ozone Park and South Ozone Park, said the ad was meant to highlight his ties to the Chinese community, not his personal relationships.
A source familiar with southeast Queens politics said Jennings has always been linked to the Chinese and Asian community in Flushing since his mortgage business was based there before he was elected to the Council.
“About 75 percent of it was about my relationship with the Chinese community,” he said in an interview this week. “I wanted to talk about the community. I was only reaching out to the Chinese community.”
He decided to include the details of his marriage and his relationship with dancer Li Yiling because the experiences enhanced his ties to the community, he said.
“Just because I'm a councilman, I can't have a life? That's who I am,” Jennings said. “I try to be very diverse with my life.”
In the ad he proclaims his love for Yiling, whom he describes as “extremely kind and open-minded.”
Yiling, however, told Chinese reporters that she broke up with Jennings, Newsday reported. Jennings would not comment on the status of their relationship.
Jennings' ad also came under fire from his ex-wife, who said that the marriage ended because Jennings had physically abused her, Newsday said. Jennings would not comment on that report.
Neither Yiling nor Jennings' ex-wife could be reached for comment.
The advertisements have confused people in the southeast Queens political arena, including Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans).
“I don't understand it,” Comrie said. “I hope that he is fully aware of all the ramifications – just how people will respond to it and how he will be perceived now.”
Jennings has said that he tries to reach out to all communities so he can represent their interests as well as those of his own district.
“I am a New York City councilman,” he said. “I serve everyone in the city. It is very important to me to bring all communities together.”
But Comrie disagreed.
“It's not germane to our work or anything to do with our work,” he said.
Others were surprised that he discussed his love life so publicly when some people barely knew he was married, said one southeast Queens observer.
The ads are the latest in a series of unusual steps Jennings has taken since he assumed his council seat in January 2002. Jennings also came under attack for releasing the names of undercover police officers at a council committee hearing he was chairing.
The councilman also spent $65,000 to open his state-of-the-art district office in downtown Jamaica, which he is likely to lose because new redistricting lines have taken away that part of his coverage area.
Most recently, Jennings has been the subject of controversy over his vote against the 18.5 percent property-tax hike. The vote went against a compromise between the mayor and the City Council and, as a result, Jennings was removed from his seat on the powerful Finance Committee.
Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.