Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Playing the "Asian" card

I know I've written about Jun Choi and his successful race for mayor of Edison, NJ, before, but now that the November 8 hype and hubbub is all over, his defeated opponent has decided to file for a recount. William Stephens, who ran as an independent, lost by 269 votes, and

On the most recent election night, Stephens said race played a role in the outcome. The next day he said Choi "played the Asian card."

Stephens has apologized if his remarks offended anyone, but he believes Choi catered to an Asian voting bloc.


I am sorry, but who does Stephens think he is fooling? Jun Choi has said all along that he does not consider himself an Asian American politician, but rather that he wants to represent all of Edison. He has said that he does not want his identity to be an issue:

“I’m very proud of my Korean and Asian heritage,” says Choi, “but during the campaign, it got so much coverage. Quite frankly, [my heritage] is not the primary issue, or one of the top three, four or five issues. But it became an issue.”


Moreover, when his identity became an issue because some idiot shock jocks caricatured his run. While speaking in a fake "Chinese" accent, the "Jersey Boys" asked why anyone would vote for someone called "Jun Choi" and "labeled Asian Americans as “foreigners” and declared that “Chinese should never dictate the outcome of an American election, Americans should.”"

After outrage and protests from local community members that was not instigated by the campaign, the shock jocks invited him onto their show for an on-air apology, which Choi received with great class, "handled the shock jocks with firm statements and a bottle of soju. He also redirected the spotlight and focus onto his platform."

Jun Choi offered open government ideas and sound policies at a time when Spadoro and the Edison County Democratic machine was running out of fuel and closed to discussion. He had novel ideas for education, health care and smart growth, not overcongestion. He ran on a reform ticket and won, and no wonder, when you read about how standoffish and unfair the Spadoro regime was in an op-ed from the local paper entitled "Edison Democrats need a lesson in democracy":

Where is the mayor when the real issues in town — like overdevelopment, the controversial Wal-Mart application or the hotly debated Edison Memorial Tower funds — are being discussed?

Well, he won’t be found at a Township Council meeting, where most of the questions are asked. Instead, the mayor holds office hours during council meetings for residents who have complaints.

This conveniently keeps any nasty problems out of the public limelight of a council meeting. . . . . . .

Even the Democratic Party in Edison seems to have taken a page from the mayor’s book.

Consider the recent “screening” meeting for mayoral candidates for the June primary. The party bigwigs made certain that Jun Choi, Spadoro’s challenger in the primary, wasn’t given an opportunity to address the municipal committee members at a recent meeting.

Spadoro was speedily endorsed. Choi was not screened because he didn’t submit his résumé in time for the committee meeting deadline, according to party Chairman Thomas “Doc” Paterniti.

But when he asked if he could informally address committee members, the answer was “no.”


Remember that one of the first groups to support Choi during the primaries was not even the county Democratic club, but rather Middlesex County for Democracy, a county arm of New Jersey for Democracy (which is in turn part of the Howard Dean affiliated Democracy for America.) They backed him because Choi, unlike " the Edison Democrats have focused on serving the political insiders and their network of developers, attorneys and special interests over the public interest." They supported Choi because of his open-government policies, get it? Moreover, Middlesec County for Democracy hardly qualifies as an "Asian organization."

Another prominent group that backed Choi during the primaries and which continued to support him in the general were a number of unions which can hardly be considered to have a high number of Asian Americans in their ranks. Specifically, a Teamsters local, a United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) local, and a RWDSU (retail workers) local supported Choi because he was on the side of working families and opposed the construction of a new Wal-Mart in Edison, which Spadoro had ushered through the planning and development boards. These unions had typically been silent on Edison politics but jumped at the chance to support Choi because of his smart growth policies and Spadoro's intense favoritism of developers over the public interest. Again, another constituency who saw that Choi had great ideas and supported him.

I was reading more of the press on Choi, and it appears that not only was he whipsmart in getting endorsements from base constituencies, he managed to win the endorsement of his previous Republican challenger, Carl Perlin. Due to some discord in the Republican camps over the Edison Republican chairwoman Sylvia Engel throwing her support behind William Stephens in the general, some angered Republicans formed their own club and supported Choi, as did Carl Perlin.

Now, I gotta say that Choi has simply been practicing some smart politics - gathering together progressive constituencies, thinking outside the box, and winning over former enemies. Stephens is simply being a poor loser, and let's face it, when even Republican candidates are endorsing your opponent, you know your chances are shot. Choi has a bright future in politics and I'll be watching his ascendency with avid interest. I know that he was originally interested in running for the State Legislature because he invited me to a fundraiser once, so we know he has his eyes set on a higher office. Let's ask why anyone wouldn't want to vote a man named Jun Choi for oh, say Governor?

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