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Assembly seat forum reveals odd positions

Ethel Chen (l.-r.), Yen Chou, Phil Gim, Sunny Hahn, Ron Kim and Myungsuk Lee pose for a photo before getting down to brass tacks. Photo by Joe Anuta
TimesLedger Newspapers

The MinKwon Center for Community Action held a candidates forum last week where hopefuls for the newly created Flushing state Assembly seat offered often vague answers to policy questions and in one case pledged support for a controversial program much maligned by immigrant rights groups.

The seat up for grabs covers most of downtown Flushing.

On the Democratic side, former librarian Ethel Chen, nonprofit head Yen Chou, activist Martha Flores-Vazquez, former aide to two New York governors Ron Kim and newspaper owner Myungsuk Lee will compete in the Democratic primary Sept. 13 to take on the winner of the Republican primary, either businessman Phil Gim or activist Sunny Hahn.

Kim is endorsed by the Queens Democratic Party and Gim by the Queens Republicans. Flores-Vazquez was not at the event, which was held at the Flushing branch of the Queens Public Library.

At one point in the forum, Steven Choi, executive director of the nonprofit, which advocates on behalf of new Korean immigrants to Flushing, asked all the candidates if they supported a federal program recently activated in New York called Secure Communities, which directs local law enforcement to share information with federal authorities about the immigration status of anyone fingerprinted.

The policy has been roundly criticized by immigrant rights groups, but every candidate initially said they supported the program, though it was unclear whether any of them were familiar with what it was.

The second time the question was asked, Kim caught on and said he would have to learn more about it before forming an opinion.

With so many candidates in the field, their platforms nevertheless began to take shape throughout the hour-and-a-half forum.

Chen pledged to fight for New York’s fair share of the state budget and for after-school programs and seniors.

Chou said education is her No. 1 priority, although she said she also wanted to create an economic task force and a multicultural team at her office.

Gim said he wanted to slash red tape for small businesses, which in turn could improve the state and city’s economy.

Hahn wants to improve the image of Flushing by soliciting private capital to restore the RKO Keith’s Theatre and promote the Willets Point Redevelopment project, which would grow the local economy.

Kim leaned on his experience in government and supported a tax break for small businesses. He also said he would visit every single small business and every school in the district once he is elected.

Lee said he is most concerned about protecting small business, creating jobs and protecting seniors, but he offered few details on specific measures.

There were also a few misleading statements by candidates. For example, Hahn touted her freedom from special interest campaign donations and said she spent the least amount of money out of any of the candidates.

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