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Ron Kim handily won the Flushing state Assembly race this month, but some polling numbers suggest many voters struggled to choose between their ethnic communities and their political parties.
Kim, a Korean-American Democrat, received a total of 12,099 votes, while his Chinese-American opponent, Republican Phil Gim, received 5,855 votes.
The margin, about 70 percent to 30 percent, was a landslide in Kim’s favor with some 41 percent of the district voting. But at PS 20, a polling site in the heart of Flushing populated by Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants, the margin was much slimmer.
Democrats outnumber Republicans 5-1 in the downtown Flushing district and Chinese Americans outnumber Korean Americans about 3-1. But at PS 20, Kim received 1,946 votes and Gim received 1,774 votes, a margin of about 52 percent to 48 percent, suggesting many voters crossed party lines to vote for Gim.
Voters’ allegiance to their ethnic community is nothing new in Flushing, where Chinese-American elected officials, like City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing), city Comptroller John Liu and the winner of a congressional race in Queens, state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing), are a source of pride.
In January, Kim will be the first Korean American elected to statewide office in New York.
A telling moment occurred Oct. 11 at a fund-raiser for Korean-American J.D. Kim, who was running for state Senate on the Republican ticket. A table full of other GOP candidates sat near the front of a Flushing restaurant, including Gim.
But after Gim left the dinner, J.D. Kim, a fellow Republican, told the crowd to vote for Gim’s opponent.
“Remember him,” he said of Gim. “Please vote for him when there is not a Korean on the other side.”
Conversely, at a news conference held by Gim Oct. 1, a man named Jerry Lau, who had worked for a Democratic Chinese-American candidate during the primary, stopped by and pledged his support for Gim, saying the Chinese community needed to stick together regardless of political affiliations.
But after the September primary, Koo and Meng threw their support behind Kim, who was backed by the Queens Democratic Party.
“There was some pressure for [Koo] to support the Chinese-American candidate,” said James McClelland, Koo’s chief of staff. “Peter Koo is a proud Chinese American who also happens to be a Democrat, and he supported the Democratic nominee who won the primary.”
And according to McClelland, that support likely helped Kim’s polling in the Chinese-American portions of the district.
But the numbers still showed a solid Kim victory, and while the margins were closer in PS 20, he still won there and throughout the rest of the district.
At PS 244, another downtown polling site, Kim received nearly double the votes of Gim, leading one political insider familiar with the campaign to wonder if ethnicity takes a back seat to a candidate’s qualifications, especially in tough economic times.
And adding to Kim’s victory is the vote in all the other communities in the district. Though it was drawn to be majority Asian American, about 47 percent of the seat is not. And that 47 percent is comprised of fairly staunch Democrats who vote down the line, especially in a year with President Barack Obama on top of the ticket.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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