Bayside Is Not Birmingham

In an election where Asian-American candidates, including city Comptroller-elect John Liu, made historic strides, we are surprised to hear the charge that Asian Americans were the victim of harassment at the polls in Bayside.

Glenn Magpantay, a staff attorney at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said his group is looking into whether laws were broken at the polls during the general election race between Dan Halloran, a Republican, and Kim, a Democrat.

“One volunteer,” he said, “told us that a couple of white guys told her not to vote for Kevin Kim because of his race. We observed a couple of incidents, including a commissioner of elections allegedly not allowing a voter who did not speak English to use an interpreter. It’s very reminiscent of what happened in the Deep South with African-American voters during the 1950s and 1960s.”

That is a reckless comparison. In parts of America’s South, blacks were turned away at the polls by racist officials who were determined not to allow blacks to vote. Protesters of this policy were beaten, hosed and attacked by dogs. Some organizers hoping to get out the black vote were killed. It was a time made brighter by the few who risked their lives so all Americans could vote.

In Bayside “a couple of white guys” allegedly told voters not to vote for Kim because he is a Korean American. It is not clear whether the voters were Asian Americans. We suspect Magpantay and his organization would not be surprised, nor would they object, if they learned Korean Americans were urged to vote for Kim because he is a Korean American.

That is the way it has been when a new ethnic or national group takes the political stage in Queens. Magpantay also charged that volunteers for Halloran were saying “Kevin Kim is some Chinese guy and that Chinese people were taking over the neighborhood.”

It seems likely some campaigners were telling people not to vote for Halloran because he is a pagan.

The truth is this was an outstanding election that showed the diversity of Queens and the emerging political power of the Asian-American community. It is hard to get much farther from the dark days of America’s Deep South.

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