As Jeremy Lin hits the court, Asian-Americans find power in politics
Jeremy Lin could not have arrived at a more propitious time for the New York Knicks—and for Asian-Americans’ growing role in New York politics.
Lin, an Asian-American Ivy League graduate, is the talk of New York as he lights up the NBA. He outscored future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant, led the Knicks to an upset victory over the Los Angeles Lakers and clinched a three-point shot to beat Toronto that reverberated all the way to Taiwan.
There was another Asian milestone during Lin’s breakout week: LATFOR, the state task force drawing new lines for the fall elections, held a public hearing in Queens on a draft plan that creates four Asian-majority districts in the state Legislature.
Both represent a coming-of-age for Asians in New York. Opportunity breeds success.
The Knicks’ depleted roster gave Lin the opportunity to crack the starting lineup. New census figures and once-a-decade redistricting gives Asian New Yorkers the opportunity to participate more broadly in the electoral arena—and to excel there.
Common Cause New York said the LATFOR draft plan is far from perfect, but called it a “significant improvement in Asian American representation” and a “step forward in recognizing the rapid growth of this community.”
Sounds like a description of Jeremy Lin, too.
Just days before Lin caught fire on the court, Rev. Al Sharpton and several black civil rights leaders denounced LATFOR’s draft plan as harmful to African-American voting interests, pointing to a district in Buffalo tailored to keep white Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti in office.
But when Sharpton juxtaposed the loss of “a black seat in Buffalo to have an Asian seat” in Queens, he was wildly off-base. It was as if he accused Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni of costing a black player a starting spot by putting Lin in the lineup.
Basketball might be a zero-sum game, but political empowerment is not.
The Buffalo district, in fact, was never a “minority district” per se. When Byron Brown won the seat from a white incumbent in 2000, he became the first African- American state senator in New York to represent a majority-white district— exactly the kind of color-blind outcome the Voting Rights Act was enacted to secure.
Conversely, the proposed Queens Senate district draws together Asian neighborhoods split across districts presently represented by white Democrats. With a little tweaking, a good district becomes a better district. I hope qualified Asian and non-Asian candidates run for the seat.
Therein lies an important lesson from Lin’s arrival: He has electrified New York not just because of his own performance but because he has elevated his teammates’ game as well. Where black and white Knicks kept failing, Lin succeeded. That’s the exciting parallel for New York politics.
When I served in the Assembly, my colleagues Jimmy Meng (the first Asian-American to serve in that chamber), Ellen Young and, now, Jimmy’s daughter, Grace Meng, brought a new energy to Albany and a perspective that had been missing. They brought diversity and new issues to a minority caucus that had previously been composed purely of black and Latino legislators.
City Comptroller John Liu was a dynamo in the City Council, and though the federal investigation into his campaign fund-raising has wounded his chances of becoming mayor, he has proven himself as a vigorous overseer of city funds.
Nathan Shingawa, a Tompkins County Legislator, has announced he will run for Congress upstate. New York City Council Members Margaret Chin and Peter Koo, Liu advisor Chung Seto and countless others are prepared to bring their “A” game onto the political court.
Call it the Lin effect. His timely appearance reaffirms what is great about America’s opportunity society, where everyone is afforded the chance to make their mark and “represent.”
Retired Assemblyman Michael Benjamin represented the Bronx for eight years.
Tags: Al Sharpton, Asian-American, black, Bronx, Buffalo, Byron Brown, Chung Seto, Common Cause, Ellen Young, Grace Meng, Ivy League, Jeremy Lin, Jimmy Meng, John Liu, Knicks, Kobe Bryant, Lakers, LATFOR, Latino, Legislature, Margaret Chin, Mark Grisanti, michael-benjamin, Mike D’Antoni, Nathan Shingawa, Peter Koo, Queens, redistricting, Senate, Taiwan, Tompkins County, Toronto
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