It’s a common question in New York City politics these days: Which elections are you watching? Every City Council member is up for reelection in 2023, since redistricting led to two consecutive two-year terms, rather than the typical four-year term. And a quick rule of thumb for which races to watch? Districts with significant Asian American populations.
Asian American voters – as diverse as the communities are, across the city – have been getting more attention lately. Andrew Yang ran a competitive mayoral primary running up huge margins among East Asian Democrats, and heavily Asian neighborhoods were hot spots in both the 2021 and 2022 general elections as candidates like Curtis Sliwa and Lee Zeldin found opportunities to flip voters who had previously backed Democrats. Voters across most demographics shifted right in the past couple cycles, but the biggest shifts were in areas where the majority of voters were Asian.
In this City Council term, there are more Asian members than ever before, with six. And after redistricting, there are nine seats out of 51 that have a population that’s at least 30% Asian. Here’s a primer on a few of those competitive races.
City Council District 1
Lower Manhattan, including the neighborhoods of Chinatown, Soho and Tribeca.
Incumbent: Christopher Marte
2020 census demographics: 45% white, 32% Asian, 13% Hispanic, 5% Black
Who’s running: Marte (Democratic), Susan Lee (D), Ursila Jung (D), Pooi Stewart (D), Helen Qiu (Republican, Conservative)
After barely losing to City Council Member Margaret Chin (who was born in Hong Kong) in 2017, Christopher Marte won the open seat in 2021 by defeating a diverse primary field, including three Asian candidates. Marte is Dominican, but he had solid support in Chinatown in the last race, and he has worked to grow more support during his term. But some bad blood remains in some parts of the community, and some local power players are backing grant writer and local activist Susan Lee, who is Chinese. Lee ran in 2021 and got fifth place, but she is leading the field in fundraising so far this year. Pooi Stewart is a Malaysian immigrant, but her campaign is already in debt, and she is apparently new to the district, having just lost an Assembly Democratic primary in the west Bronx in 2022.
This Manhattan district is solidly Democratic, so while the one Republican, Helen Qiu, may find supporters in more conservative parts of the district, she doesn’t have much of a chance in the general election.
City Council District 20
Eastern Queens, including the neighborhoods of Flushing and Murray Hill
Incumbent: Sandra Ung
2020 census demographics: 72% Asian, 15% Hispanic, 9% white, 2% Black
Who’s running: Ung (D), Yu-Ching James Pai (R, C), Jin Liang Chen (R)
This district, with the highest Asian population in the city, elected City Council Member Peter Koo on the GOP line a decade ago. He later switched parties, but Flushing could go red again – voters were evenly split between Zeldin and Gov. Kathy Hochul in 2022, and Democratic Assembly Member Ron Kim narrowly beat a Republican in a similar district then too. Sandra Ung, as a moderate, may not be as vulnerable in the general as the outwardly progressive Kim though. In fact, she beat accountant Yu-Ching James Pai in the general by almost 20 points two years ago. Ung is avoiding a primary, but Pai will face Jin Liang Chen, who doesn’t have a campaign presence online yet.
City Council District 23
Eastern Queens, including the neighborhoods of Bellerose, Douglaston and Little Neck
Incumbent: Linda Lee
2020 census demographics: 45% Asian, 22% white, 15% Hispanic, 11% Black
Who’s running: Lee (D), Rubaiya Rahman (D), Steve Behar (D), Bernard Chow (R, C)
Linda Lee, who is Korean, topped Democratic Socialist Jaslin Kaur, who is Indian, in a close primary two years ago. She’s not running again, but third-place finisher Steve Behar, who is white, is back. Also running is Rubaiya Rahman, who is South Asian and runs an autism nonprofit. It’s a diverse district, and Lee’s incumbency should protect her well. This district also votes consistently Democratic, despite its rather suburban nature, but Republican Bernard Chow will try to change that by emphasizing public safety.
City Council District 26
Western Queens, including the neighborhoods of Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside
Incumbent: Julie Won
2020 census demographics: 32% Asian, 30% Hispanic, 27% white, 7% Black
Who’s running: Julie Won (D, Working Families Party), Hailie Kim (D), Marvin Jeffcoat (R)
Julie Won defeated 14 other candidates in the 2021 primary, despite having limited institutional support from elected officials and unions. Many predicted she’d face a tough race again, especially after bruising rezoning negotiations, possibly against second-place finisher Amit Bagga. Instead? Hailie Kim, who is Korean like Won and got eighth place in the 2021 primary, is gearing up for a one-on-one race this year. Kim has an energetic campaign with solid fundraising, but Won’s power of incumbency may be hard to overcome. And Republican Marvin Jeffcoat has no shot in the general election in this deep-blue district.
City Council District 43
Southern Brooklyn, including the neighborhoods of Sunset Park, Bensonhurst and Gravesend
Incumbent: None – this is a newly drawn district
2020 census demographics: 54% Asian, 27% white, 15% Hispanic, 1% Black
Who’s running: Wai Yee Chan (D), Susan Zhuang (D), Stanley Ng (D), Ying Tan (R), Vito LaBella (R)
Several City Council districts in southern Brooklyn were substantially adjusted to help draw this one, uniting many Asian residents who were previously split among multiple districts. Wai Yee Chan, executive director of social service nonprofit Homecrest Community Services, has the most major supporters, including from state Sen. Iwen Chu, City Council Member Justin Brannan and PSC-CUNY. Susan Zhuang, chief of staff to Assembly Member William Colton, is running with his backing and support from the New Majority NYC while retired computer programmer Stanley Ng has former Council Member Margaret Chin, from Manhattan, on his side. All three Democratic candidates are Chinese, and each has raised a similar amount. Candidates’ camps have criticized each other on residency, but it might not stick. Chan lives in Queens, while Zhuang recently moved back from Indiana and Ng recently moved back from Florida.
On the Republican side, Vito LaBella, who is white, was swapped in after petitioning to replace Jack Ho, who is Asian, angering some who wanted to see another Asian Republican elected in neighborhoods that just sent Assembly Member Lester Chang to Albany. Ying Tan, who is Chinese, is also running, but LaBella may be tough to beat, after falling just 500 votes short of Chu in last year’s state Senate race. That proves the GOP has a real shot to pick up another seat in this district, where Sliwa got nearly double the votes Eric Adams did in the 2021 mayoral race.
NEXT STORY: How’d Eric Adams do in the state budget? So-so.