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Familiar faces race toward Albany

The cauldron of Flushing politics is beginning to boil.

Two years of relative tranquility between Flushing's Democrats look set to end as state Assemblywoman Ellen Young (D-Flushing) faces a coalition of familiar challengers from within her own party.

Earlier this month, Grace Meng announced her plans to attempt to unseat the freshman assemblywoman by laying forth a primary ticket that includes two prominent Flushing politicians who ran against Young for the same seat two years ago: Julia Harrison and Terence Park.

Meng will run for the state Assembly seat alongside Park and Harrison as the male and female candidates for the Part B Democratic district leader posts on what they are calling the Proven Leadership & Strength in Unity Team.

Meng said she said she plans to unveil her campaign platform in the coming weeks.

Young, meanwhile, has already received the endorsement of the Queens County Democratic Party and the Working Families Party but said she is currently focused on her work in the Assembly and only plans to shift gears toward her campaign once the Albany legislative session finishes later this month.

While Meng and Young have remained quiet and cordial early on in the campaign season, their candidates for district leader have been anything but.

The forthcoming election has allowed the deep divide between Park and City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) to resurface. Park has held ill feelings toward Liu since the councilman pulled his support of the community activist in the 2006 Assembly race. Liu instead threw his weight behind his former chief of staff and the eventual victor, Young.

Though Park and Liu were once allies who together founded the Democratic Organization of Flushing, Park called his endorsement of Young an attempt at the "eradication" of his political career.

Park said the councilman is seeking total control of the area's political discourse and Young, as a former staffer of his, represents little more than an arm of his political machine.

"John Liu has to have control. The majority district leaders direct the affairs of matters in the political district. He needs to have these people on his side," Park said.

Liu, who is a district leader in Part A, has worked closely with fellow district leaders Martha Flores-Vasquez, James Wu and Mei Hua Ru, but the Flushing Councilman is by far the most powerful political voice of the four — each of whom will be running for re-election on Young's ticket.

"We're not very happy about John Liu sort of being like a dictator in our community, in our district," That was the whole idea behind our group. I believe people will support us more than one man dominating as the single political force in the community."

Liu, who plans to run for an as-of-yet undetermined citywide office in 2009, said Young is her own candidate and brushed aside the notion that he has formed a political machine in Flushing.

"I don't think there's anything special going on here. People want to run for office. I think that's a good thing. I don't take it personally," he said. "People who run for office every other year and fail to gain traction, obviously they're not going to be happy campers."

The race has also stirred controversy in another local political club: the Democratic Club of Flushing.

At the June 2 news conference announcing Meng's bid for Young's seat, Harrison said Democratic Club of Flushing members had overwhelmingly voted to support the Meng-Harrison-Park ticket the previous weekend.

Harrison's statement spurred an immediate rebuttal from current District Leader and Democratic Club of Flushing member James Wu, who described the meeting as a "small renegade group [who] decided to pursue its own agenda." The release was distributed through Liu's office. Liu is the current district leader.

"She told the executive board members that it was a committee meeting and they didn't need to be there. There was a handful of people that were there," Wu said. "They haven't consulted the rest of the club. It's a little bit insulting."

Harrison, however, contends that the meeting was no secret and 32 of the club's 45 board members were accounted for.

Of the 22 who attended the meeting Harrison said 18 voted in favor of supporting Meng's ticket, which also includes civic activist James Trikas and Fay Meyers as candidates for the Part A district leader posts, while four abstained.

Wu said he has been trying to organize a full meeting of the club to settle the matter, but Harrison stood by the vote and accused Wu of speaking for a group of people he does not represent.

"He's a hot air balloon. He misrepresented himself as speaking for the Democratic Club of Flushing," Harrison said, contending that Wu has pulled members into a debate they did not realize they were having. "They have had no idea that he's been playing the other side of the street. Now they find themselves on John Liu and Ellen Young's petitions and want to know what's going on here."

Political consultants for Meng and Young told TimesLedger that both campaigns have been actively fund-raising and have started to collect the 500 signatures required to place their names on the ballot for September's Democratic primary.

Young has enlisted the services of powerful political consulting firm the Parkside Group, and spokesman Joe Reubens said they were gearing up for a healthy political fight.

"It's going to be a hot summer in Flushing," he said.

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