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Stavisky officially begins rematch with Messer for Senate

Supporters from the Queens Democratic Party and the Chinese community, including state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (second from r.), throw their support behind the re-election campaign of state Sen. Toby Stavisky (third from r.). Photo by Joe Anuta
TimesLedger Newspapers

State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) formally announced Friday that she will run in the newly created Asian district centered around Flushing and she had members of the community on hand to tout her credibility.

Elected officials, including City Comptroller John Liu and community leaders including Peter Tu, of the Flushing Chinese Business Association, threw their support behind Stavisky on the steps of the Flushing branch of Queens Public Library, along with other members of the Asian community.

“I’m asking the Asian leaders to support Toby Stavisky in this election,” said John Park, of the Korean-American Political Empowerment Association.

But Tu, along with another speaker, also alluded to perceptions that Stavisky has turned a blind eye to the Asian community during her 13 years in the state Legislature.

“I’ll be blunt for a second,” said state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing). “Once in a blue moon you hear mutterings about someone saying, ‘Has Toby really been here for a certain part of the community?’”

Both Meng and Tu countered those perceptions, as did Stavisky in an interview after the announcement.

“Obviously it’s not true,” she said. “I think it’s very clear that I have widespread support.”

Stavisky also addressed the fact that she does not currently live in the district. After the decennial redistricting process, where a state body redraws political boundaries to accommodate for population change, her Beechhurst co-op was drawn into the same district as Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), which would have pitted them against each other in a primary.

When asked if she would rent or buy in the district, Stavisky declined to comment, saying she was not assuming she would win.

Initially, Stavisky said she waited until legal challenges to the process were addressed before selecting the Flushing-centric district, where 53 percent of the population is Asian, to run.

So far an Asian candidate has not come forward to challenge Stavisky in this year’s race. But Yen Chou, who was at Stavisky’s rally and who ran for City Council in 2009, has not ruled out a run. Chou was at the rally for Stavisky to support the Democratic Party, she said.

But according to a Korean nonprofit that advocated for the majority-Asian seat, ensuring an Asian candidate ran was not the point anyway.

“The redistricting efforts we made were so that the community could have a stronger voice,” said James Hong, of the MinKwon Center, in downtown Flushing, who added that the final lines were not ideal but at least a step in the right direction. “Our goal was never get an Asian elected.”

But Stavisky will have to go up against fellow Democrat John Messer, a Flushing lawyer and business owner, who ran against the senator in a three-way 2010 primary for the same seat.

Messer said he is not only going up against Stavisky herself, but the Queens Democratic Party and the consulting firm Parkside, which is partially run by Stavisky’s son Evan.

“You’re going against an empire whose family has been there for 30 years,” said Messer, who has yet to have a kickoff event.

S.J. Jung, a Korean businessman who ran for City Council in 2009, also did not rule out a run when approached earlier this week.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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