Volume 22, Number 19 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | September 18 - 24, 2009
Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel
Margaret Chin got kisses from husband Alan Tung, left, and son Kevin Tung on election night.
Four’s the charm for Chin as she topples Gerson
By Josh Rogers and Julie shapiro
Margaret Chin defeated Councilmember Alan Gerson in the Democratic primary Tuesday night making her the odds-on favorite to become the first Asian American to represent Chinatown.
This was Chin’s fourth bid for the Council seat since 1991 but the first time she quit her job to devote herself full time to running. Many of her supporters who joined in the celebration Tuesday night said they voted for her all four times, including in 2001 when she lost the open seat to Gerson in a seven-way race. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic and if she wins in the general election in November as is expected, she will also represent Battery Park City, Tribeca, Soho and Noho, the Financial District, the Seaport, and parts of the Village and Lower East Side.
On Tuesday night, a beaming Chin greeted a rollicking, roaring crowd of 100 at her victory party at Golden Unicorn restaurant in Chinatown and she could barely stop smiling long enough to speak.
“We overcome so many obstacles, but the final result is victory,” she said.
Chin took nearly 40 percent (4,541 votes) in a primary that drew 11,516 people to the polls, according to unofficial returns that should take about a week to certify. Gerson came in second with 3,520 votes (31 percent), while newcomer PJ Kim received 1,927 (17 percent), Pete Gleason 1,293 (11 percent) and Arthur Gregory got 235 (2 percent).
Chin, 56, and several of her volunteers said Chinese representation for the Council district containing Chinatown is long overdue.
Councilmember Alan Gerson (Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert) got a consoling hug from a supporter Tyesday night as it became clear the election. Right, Independence Plaza tenent leader John Scott lifted Chin off the ground in celebration (Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel).
“For it to finally happen, it is very significant,” Chin said.
As Chin spoke, one supporter called out in Chinese that she was breaking a bad spell cast on the neighborhood.
“No, no spell,” Chin said, laughing. “We’re waking up the community.”
Chin promised to waste no time in getting to work on uniting the First District and delivering on her campaign promises of more affordable housing and schools. Chin said she would use her background In community organizing — she was deputy executive director at Asian Americans for Equality — to fight for quality of life and other issues.
The First District is a collection of disparate sections, but Chin said the neighborhoods in the district have more in common than people realize.
“The West Side can help the East Side, the East Side can help the West Side — we can all help each other by working together,” Chin said.
At her victory celebration, Alex Hing, 63, a hotel worker in Chinatown, took the mic to say that this election year was supposed to be all about change, until the City Council extended term limits for themselves and the mayor. As a result, many incumbents coasted into a third term, but not Gerson.
“We showed them!” Chin said.
Chin gave her speech in both Chinese and English, with the Chinese sections getting louder applause from the mostly Asian crowd.
Gerson, 51, speaking to a dejected group of supporters — a few with moist eyes — did not concede, but acknowledged that Chin “appears headed toward victory,” and said “this is the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.” He said he was “holding off for a day” so his campaign could regroup, compare the returns with internal tallies and decide what to do next. He promised a “smooth transition” if he lost.
He also called Chin Tuesday night after she declared victory. Gerson’s speech to roughly 50 supporters crammed into Silver Spurs restaurant in the Village, sounded much like a concession — he thanked his supporters for all of their hard work over his eight years and for working with him to spawn “a political movement.” He appeared to have accepted defeat, not mentioning anything he hoped to accomplish in a future Council term.
But his campaign released a statement Wednesday saying they wanted to examine questions “about the votes reported.” Gerson said he now hopes it will be less than two weeks before he gets the information from the Board of Elections.
Chin said Wednesday that when she and Gerson spoke the night before, he said he would be conceding the next day but that he was not going to publicly concede then in order to cushion the blow to his supporters.
Gerson said he did “not recall” saying he was planning to make a concession, but does remember saying that he would support her if the results hold up.
Kim and Gleason both offered congratulations to Chin Tuesday and pledged their support in the general election. Gregory did not return a call for comment by press time. Kim said he harbored no resentment over Chin’s lawsuit to knock him off the ballot.
“I put it behind me a long time ago,” he said.
Kim did particularly well throughout B.P.C. There was a light turnout in the north where Kim won with 62 votes to Gerson’s 42, Chin’s 28 and Gleason’s 22, according to an unofficial Gerson campaign tally.
Chin not only cleaned up in Chinatown — for example, beating Gerson by 347 votes to 78 at the M.S. 131 voting site, according to unofficial tallies — she also did well in Tribeca, winning more votes in the election districts that voted at P.S. 234, beating Gerson there 183 to 149.
Voter turnout appeared to be a bit stronger in Chinatown, where Chin had a vigorous get-out-the-vote effort.
Outside P.S. 1 on Henry St., a Chin volunteer was calling out to seniors in Chinese. She got one elderly woman to listen to her and took her by the arm, ushering her into the school to vote (she didn’t go all the way into the school, but walked her up to the steps).
“We need someone who’s in the community who understands it and is willing to fight for it,” said Annie Der, 57, another Chinese woman who voted for Chin. “Everyone else just looks at us as a number, and after they get the votes, they ignore you.”
But Chin also won over many white voters in the district.
“She seemed legitimately interested,” said Natalie Raben, 24. “She was real. She has the right ideas in mind.”
Raben, who works at a small environmental firm on Orchard St., was impressed that Chin spoke at length to the owner and workers at her firm and seemed committed to helping small businesses.
Gerson also maintained much support in the district, capturing many votes in Battery Park City, the Village and at Southbridge Towers.
“Gerson has done a lot for the community — things like affordable housing and [getting] the Downtown Community Center [constructed],” said Glenn Fennelly, a 49-year-old Battery Park City resident. Parents cited his record getting new schools built In the district.
Diane Lapson, a Gerson supporter who is president of the Independence Plaza tenants’ association, said she was surprised Gerson lost there, but she was more concerned about how few of her Tribeca neighbors, about 350 in a complex of a few thousand, came out to vote.
“I’m sure Margaret will do a great job,” Lapson said, “but I’m disappointed that people are so complacent and are not coming out to vote.”
Gerson, on Tuesday night, appeared to be a bit tired, but did not show much sadness. He did quarrel with photographers and reporters from different news organizations including Downtown Express. After his campaign put out a media advisory about his “victory celebration,” he then instructed the press that no photographs or interviews would be allowed until his public statements, which he delayed for almost an hour after Chin’s victory speech.
Gerson’s campaign this year was a marked contrast to his 2001 victory in which he raised most of his campaign money before his opponents even started fundraising. He did not qualify for public matching funds this year and he faces possible fines if he does not pay back his campaign loans. He also had trouble making the 2009 ballot, a development that cost him a place on the absentee ballot.
Voters did receive lots of information in the mail and many said the City Council race is what brought them out to the polls. But Jim Gerbig, 45, who moved from Hell’s Kitchen to Battery Park City a year ago, said he didn’t vote in the Council race.
“I’m glued to the TV and they didn’t cover the City Council races,” he said. “I got to the booth and realized I didn’t know the candidates.”