This Asian American Blazed Political Trails in Flushing 25 Years Ago, Clearing the Way For Successful Candidates Years Later

When it comes to politics Asian Americans have been blazing the trail in Flushing for decades. Queens Borough Reporter Ruschell Boone has more.

She never made it into office, but Pauline Chu is still considered a political trailblazer. In 1991, she was the first Asian American to run for office in Flushing against longtime City Councilwoman Julia Harrison. Many people thought the idea was crazy.

"Because I am very little woman, that doesn't have any background, from Taiwan and major in education so how can you beat the incumbent you know and then I didn't know how powerful the incumbent was," Chu said.

Many Asians had talked about challenging her, but Chu went for it after Harrison made statements many Asians found offensive. The Asian population had grown significantly and that didn't sit well with many longtime residents.

"We felt insulted," Chu said.

Chu lost the Democratic primary. A second challenge was also unsuccessful, but in 2001 — 10 years after Chu's initial run — John Liu made history as the first Asian American elected to the city council. Harrison was term limited out of office.

"Even though I didn't get elected, I think I made a pretty good impact and maybe paved the way for the later people to run for office," Chu said.

There has been a string of political trailblazers since then, including Ron Kim, the first Korean American elected to the State Assembly and Grace Meng, the state's first Asian American Congresswoman. Community advocates say redistricting has been key. 

"We have seen this in several instances at the Assembly level and at the City Council level," said James Hong, interim executive director of the Minkwon Center for Community Action.

1-in-5 of the borough's more than 2 million residents is Asian and there is a large concentration in Flushing.

"When the lines are redrawn in a way that reflects the community's growth and its presence then we see people being able to run and be viable candidates and become representatives," Hong said.

Pauline Chu is still involved in some of the politics here and she says every candidate needs crossover appeal to win here. While there is a large Asian population, Flushing is very diverse.

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