By Cynthia Koons
Since his inauguration at Flushing Town Hall Jan. 2, the first Asian member of the state Legislature has been stopping at press conferences, speaking at lunches, taking calls from constituents, listening to concerns from fellow Asians – all the while working the Assembly floor and learning the ins and outs of his new job.Last Thursday the Flushing Democrat took the podium at the Flushing Chamber of Commerce to urge members of the organization to donate their used computers to local schools.Meng, a newly minted assemblyman, was on several boards in Queens including the Queens Public Library, the Margaret Tietz Senior Center and the Queensborough Community College prior to being elected in November. No stranger to the civic scene, he said the state political world is a little different than he expected. “I work every night, I work until 11 or 12 o'clock,” he said after his speech at the luncheon. “I have no lunch. Every night I stay with my lawyers and work.”It's not easy being green.He is learning how to be an assemblyman by working with senior legislators and keeping close relationships with his aides.Meng unseated incumbent Barry Grodenchik in the Democratic primary in September. The 22nd Assembly District seat was created during redistricting after the 2000 Census. It represents the primarily Asian downtown Flushing, where he has worked for the past 25 years.A proponent of reform in the Albany budget process during his campaign, he has come out swinging early, co-sponsoring an appropriations bill that would require Gov. George Pataki to restore $1.7 billion to the state budget.He has been appointed to the Assembly committees on small business, banking and corporations. He also joined the education and transportation committees.Education is what brought him to the chamber meeting, held at the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel on 39th Avenue in downtown Flushing.”It is essential that businesses understand the importance that education plays a vital role in the future of our businesses,” he said. “That's why I'm asking companies to make a contribution of either old computers or a financial contribution dedicated to purchasing computers to serve our high schools so that our children can better understand computers and succeed.”Within his coverage area falls John Bowne High School, which was just placed on Mayor Michael Bloomberg's impact list, requiring the school to tighten its disciplinary programs and add school safety officers to the halls.Meng hopes to use his status as a local businessman – part owner of a lumber yard and a downtown Flushing bookstore – to leverage private-public partnerships for the schools. As the first Chinese elected to state Legislature, he has found that Asian concerns have become a bigger focus of his than he anticipated.He gets calls from as far as Texas and Washington, D.C. about issues that pertain to Asian immigrants.”I feel it's a big burden on me,” he said.His daughter, Grace Meng, who stood by his side while he campaigned in the fall, said she does not see him as much because he spends Monday through Wednesday in Albany.”He's meeting a lot of new people,” she said. “It's hard for him, there are a lot of things like 'where do I get business cards? Where's the bathroom?'”She said when he is not in Albany, he is busy with press events in Flushing.”We're in the midst of setting up an office,” she said. “We serve all people, but a lot of the non-district citizens who come in come to him because he's the first Asian elected official.”She said the state Legislature added “Asian” to its Black, Puerto Rican and Hispanic Caucus.City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), who also represents the heavily Asian district, can relate to Meng's experience because he was the first Asian leader elected at the city level.”There once was an unbelievable case where one (Asian) man drove from Indiana to my office in Flushing for assistance with his dad, who was killed in a car accident in Louisiana,” Liu said. “There is undoubtedly an issue with access to government.” The councilman has responded to events involving Asians outside his district, such as the murder of a Chinese food deliveryman in South Jamaica and the death of a Rego Park Chinese-American woman in the Indian Ocean tsunami. “There is the additional challenge and that simply means getting less time to sleep,” he said.Meng said he also has been contacted by Japanese people, Indians and Koreans requesting his assistance.”Some issues I have no idea,” he said. “But I always take it on. I won't let people down.”Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.