By Stephen Stirling
A far cry from your typical politician, Peter Koo said he made his decision to challenge longtime incumbent state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) after talking to people in Flushing, the community he has been an active member of for the last two decades.
“Most people you ask in Flushing, 'Who is your state senator?' They don't know,” Koo said in an interview at the TimesLedger Newspapers' office last week. “She's out of touch.”
Koo, owner of the Starside Drugs pharmacy chain and an active community member and philanthropist, launched his campaign to unseat Stavisky two months ago. Koo has the full backing of the state and Queens County Republican Party and said he believes he can beat Stavisky, a popular nine-year incumbent whose family has held the seat for more than three decades, by using her own constituency against her.
“People in the Legislature are in an ivory tower,” he said. “This is why the Legislature is so dysfunctional.”
Koo has lived in Flushing with his wife and two children for more than 20 years. After working at what was then Booth Memorial Hospital as a pharmacist for eight years, Koo opened Starside Drugs, which blossomed into a successful business and now has five locations.
Over the course of his time in Flushing, Koo has been the longtime president of the Flushing Chinese Business Association as well as an active member of Community Board 7 and the Flushing Business Improvement District.
A registered Republican since college, Koo said despite running on the party's ticket, he will not be pigeon-holed by some of the GOP's views.
If elected, Koo said he would support driver's licenses for immigrants so long as they were distinguishable from legal citizen's IDs. He also said he would campaign for more state funding for city public schools.
“The Republican Party is just a vehicle for me. I can't run as an independent. They offered me the opportunity and I'm very grateful,” he said. “The Democratic Party would never offer it to me. Their bus is too crowded.”
He added: “A local economy requires a different set of thinking. I'm not just going to come in and do what George [W.] Bush says. It's different. That's what we're elected to do, though — be a local representative.”
After a career in the medical field, Koo said health care reform is a key issue for him. He said tackling Medicaid abuses and boosting funding for senior centers would be a top priority if he wins the election.
Koo said he hopes to gradually bring new ideas to both the state Legislature and his own party, but said he would take a realistic approach.
“I think that new ideas are good. I'm not expecting that I'll go there and change the system overnight, though,” he said. “You have to put yourself there and build a foundation first. You can't walk in and say, 'Hey, I want to change everything.' They'd kick me out.”
Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.