By Joe Anuta
Candidates for the Flushing state Assembly seat will challenge each other in court before butting heads on the campaign trail, although a controversy surrounding one candidate has attracted the eye of the Queens district attorney.
There will be primaries on both sides of the aisle Sept. 13, though the Democratic field is more crowded than the GOP race.
The Queens Democratic Party-backed candidate Ron Kim collected enough signatures to obtain a place on the ballot, as did District Leader Martha Flores-Vazquez, Flushing activist Ethel Chen, former City Council candidate Yen Chou, comic book store owner John Scandalios and Korean Newspaper owner Myungsuk Lee, who has been embroiled in a scandal involving ads in his paper allegedly being linked to prostitutes.
“When these ads were accepted by my paper and by my staff, the individuals purported them to be legal in nature. Had my staff known these individuals were, in fact, using these ads and services as a front for illegal activities, they would never have been accepted,” Lee said in response to a report in the New York Post that ads for massage parlors in the back of the Korean American Times were allegedly linked to prostitution.
Ads designed to recruit sex workers allegedly led back to the same building where Lee’s campaign and newspaper are headquartered, according to the Post.
A reporter who showed up at the address and asked for a massage was given a price list of a wide range of illegal sexual activities that could be purchased, according to the Post.
“Although I am disappointed that individuals misrepresented themselves successfully to the Korean American Times and were able to place ads that were ultimately offering illegal services, I am happy this has been brought to the paper’s attention and it will be corrected going forward,” Lee said. “It is just a reminder of how Flushing’s quality of life is under attack and how we always need to stay vigilant against those who will lie and deceive for personal gain.”
District Attorney Richard Brown will be conferring with the NYPD’s Vice Squad on the matter of the allegedly illegal massage parlors, according to a spokesman for the DA.
Lee, along with every other candidate, had the signatures he collected challenged in court. If enough are thrown, out some candidates could be taken off the ballot.
Lee raised more than $80,000 for the race, according to the state Board of Elections, although he has about $25,000 left.
Chou raised about $128,000, putting her in the lead thus far. She has spent more than $27,500, which leaves her with about $100,000. But Chou, along with other candidates, was boosted by large loans to the campaign. In her case, Bo Hsiang Chen loaned the campaign $60,000, about half of her total war chest.
Chen raised about $17,500 through individual contributions but was loaned $90,000 by Thomas Wu, which made up the bulk of the $112,500 she raised. Chen still has $89,000.
Financial disclosure statements from Kim and Flores-Vazquez were not available by press time, and Scandalios pledged not to take campaign donations at all and calls himself the $999 candidate, referring to the fact that he is using his own money.
On the Republican Party side, Flushing activist Sunny Hahn raised $950 from individual contributions, but received a substantial loan of $25,000 from Yanghee Hahn.
She will face GOP-backed candidate Phil Gim in the primary.
Gim raised $20,290, according to the state Board of Elections, nearly all from individual contributions.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.