By Madina Toure
Democratic and Republican lawmakers from Queens, upstate New York and Long Island came together for a private historic meeting in downtown Flushing last week.
The office of state Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing), who participated in the meeting, initially sent out a media advisory about the event, held at Mudan Banquet Hall at 136-17 39th Ave. April 14, the day before the event.
But the morning of the event, his office said the meeting would no longer be open to the public or to the media.
“I think people were just a little bit hesitant to publicly talk about some of the issues and they felt more comfortable openly talking about it in a private setting,” Kim said. “People tend to be less honest about some of the issues when they know it’s being recorded so we ultimately decided it was best to have them come in, talk to some of our local constituents.”
Participants who were scheduled to attend included state Assemblymen Brian Kolb, the Republican Party’s minority leader; Marcos Crespos, chairman of the Hispanic and Puerto Rican Task Force; Jeffrion Aubry (D-Corona), speaker pro tem; and Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights), chairman of the Commission on Science and Technology.
Other Republican members from upstate New York and Long Island; Peter Tu, executive director of the Flushing Chinese Business Association; and Minsum Kim of the Korean American Association of Greater New York were also scheduled to participate.
Crespos and Aubry were not able to attend the meeting, according to Kim.
The assemblyman said the participants first went to a public school in Jackson Heights to meet with students who were immigrants and learn about the struggles they faced. The group then went to Citi Field for a tour of the stadium. The group also visited parts of the Bronx.
One topic discussed at the Flushing meeting were the challenges that small business owners face, especially mom-and-pop stores, and how they are being priced out of New York City.
Other areas of concern included former Police Officer Peter Liang, who was recently sentenced to five years of probation in the fatal shooting of Akai Gurley. Kim said he spoke about the need for the criminal justice system to be reformed and that the African-American and Asian communities have been pitted against one another.
Kim said that in New York City, advancing the Dream Act legislation allowing undocumented students who graduated from high schools here to apply for college financial aid has been a big priority and in upstate New York the hardships farmers face has been an issue. He believes lawmakers meeting regularly to discuss problems and visit one another’s communities would help everyone understand what is happening in other areas.
“I think these discussions will lead to incremental change in the way that people understand each other,” Kim said. “I don’t expect any immediate change overnight but we will take a series of these events and meetings. As Democrats in New York City, we also plan on going upstate and visiting their communities as well.”
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour