Unlike some of the other open state legislative seats representing New
York City, the one in Flushing offers several familiar faces. Three of
the five candidates running in the Democratic primary for Assembly
district 22 -- Ethel Chen, Barry Grodenchik, and Richard Jannaccio --
ran for City Council last year. The remaining two, John Albert and
Jimmy Meng, are relative newcomers to politics. But both have work
experience -- Albert as a former lobbyist for victim's rights
organization Safe Horizons and Meng as a well known businessman and
civic activist -- that may make them attractive choices for the voters
in the district.
In a district that includes downtown Flushing, home to hundreds of
Asian-American businesses, the candidates' ethnicities may play a role
in determining the winner. Critics and some candidates have complained
publicly about the Queens County Democratic Party's endorsement of Barry
Grodenchik, one of the two non-Asian American candidates in the race.
Many feel that the party should have tapped one of the three Asian
Americans running in the Democratic primary -- John Albert, Ethel Chen,
or Jimmy Meng.
The most pressing local problem and the first mentioned by all of the
candidates, is the noticeable decline in the community's quality-of-life
- from heavy traffic to increasingly poor waste disposal services.
Downtown Flushing is congested every day of the week - delivery trucks,
double-parked vehicles, and routine gridlock make driving in the
community difficult. Diesel buses and commercial trucks clogging the
streets also pollute the air. Richard Jannaccio claims that "I was the
first person to make this an issue in Queens because I found out
Brooklyn was getting these compressed air buses, and the politicians in
Queens were asleep at the wheel." Meanwhile, John Albert would like to
see diesel buses eliminated too, and if elected would try to "give
incentives to people to buy clean-air low emission vehicles."
Jannaccio offered another solution to curbing downtown's traffic
problem: convert the busiest streets into one-way streets. He also named
another contributor to street congestion: lack of parking space.
"Developers have found that Flushing is a place where they can get
special permits and variances so that they can build huge developments
without providing adequate parking," Jannaccio says.
But streets are not only clogged with traffic, they're filthy, too - in
many parts of the district there is no weekend trash pick-up. To deal
with the garbage problem, Jimmy Meng and Barry Grodenchik both suggest
setting up a business improvement district in Downtown Flushing. Both
hope this would influence area businesses to contribute to neighborhood
clean up. A few years ago, Meng started a street-cleaning program run
by businesses - but according to all of the candidates, including Meng,
more needs to be done.
Trash and traffic aside, candidates claim that other pollutants are
chipping away at the beauty of their neighborhoods. Albert is worried
about power plants. "What I'm afraid of," says Albert, "is that there is
going to be a call to put in more diesel power generators . they're the
last things that we want - they're high polluting." Jannaccio, attuned
to air traffic problems, says that Flushing is "in the landing path of
LaGuardia Airport, so the noise pollution and the exhaust from jets is
another problem ... And there aren't supposed to be flights coming in
after 11 p.m." He claims that planes are heard as late as 2 a.m.
Ultimately, it is up to the federal government to resolve this issue,
says Jannaccio, but pressure by the state - through official recognition
of the airport as a major polluter - would encourage state-sponsored
studies of air quality, studies that, according to Jannaccio, would be
helpful to the district.
Both Albert and Jannaccio also see the environment as an important
statewide issue. "The Pataki administration has not put priority on
the environment that it needs to have," said Jannaccio. He would like
to see more funding "in two basic areas - for the environment it has to
involve cleanup of existing pollution; it has to also involve
enforcement to prevent ongoing pollution." Cleanup of toxic waste has
come to a halt, says Jannaccio, because of a funding shortage. Albert
agrees with Jannaccio that the state and district "need some kind of
Affordable housing is another big issue, John Albert described the cause
of skyrocketing rent: "What's happening is that you'll have a developer
buy a home - a large home, a single family home - and then destroy it
and put up a five-unit apartment building ... if you don't have six
units, it's not rent-controlled, and so you have very, very expensive
Each candidate is aware of the housing problem and its ramifications.
Two offered substantive remedies. Barry Grodenchik said he would
encourage construction similar to the union housing built in past
decades, like the Mitchell-Lama and Electchester houses. "Although the
federal government's gotten out of the business of building housing,"
Grodenchick said, "it is nevertheless feasible for the private sector to
create affordable homes." Meanwhile, for Richard Jannaccio, a proponent
of rent control and a strong supporter of tenants' rights, the solution
lies in properly managing new development by updating the area's lax
zoning requirements, which have gone unchanged since the 1960s.
With Albany allocating a disproportionate amount of money to upstate
schools, each candidate talked at length about taking back the city's
fair share of funding. "New York City gives more to the state than it
gets back," argued Barry Grodenchik, "At the district level, Flushing's
schools face plenty of difficulties. Large class sizes and inadequate
facilities top the list." Grodenchik said that, if elected, he would
visit every school in the district to assess teacher and student
performances. John Albert wants to ensure that school facilities are
equal throughout the district and the state. "There are [district]
schools that don't have gymnasiums, don't have auditoriums, because
they're looked upon as luxuries," said Albert. What troubles Ethel
Chen, on the other hand, are the challenges facing immigrant students
when learning to speak English in district schools. "Some of their
teachers do not even speak proper English," Chen says.
When it comes to school governance, Jimmy Meng opposes mayoral control
and would instead advocate borough-wide school boards. Richard
Jannaccio is also wary of giving one man control of the schools, and he
emphasized the importance of making students part of any educational
reforms stating "If they [students] feel like they are part of the
process it will make them feel like they're doing something they want to
do rather than something they're forced to do. " Ethel Chen approves of
the new system, but was disappointed by the mayor's appointment of Joel
Klein "without consultation." Barry Grodenchik also favors mayoral
control of the schools stating that "My job now, if I am elected, is to
make sure that the mayor's doing his job in governing the schools."
All Eyes On Albany
"Who controls Albany?" asked Ethel Chen rhetorically, "Two houses -
three people." All of the candidates, like Chen, spoke up on Albany's
dysfunctional legislative process. John Albert, who has spent the last
four years lobbying in Albany on behalf of crime victims, is no stranger
to the leadership in Albany. Although troubled by the leadership's
power over the legislative process, Albert plans to work with the
current system as best he can. "We just have to try our best," Chen
said, agreeing with Albert's position and ruling out broader, structural
changes. Grodenchik and Jannaccio offered ideas on how to open the
process in Albany, without a complete overhaul of the legislature.
Grodenchick would like to see the budget process, one of the Assembly's
most important tasks, opened up, making budgetary deliberations more
public and legislators more accountable. For Jannaccio, fixing Albany
"ultimately has to be done through the New York State Constitution which
is difficult since the Constitution itself allows the politicians to
control the process.There are even a lot of Democrats who are hesitant
to go with any kind of change in the constitution at this point, " he
says, "because they think it might be controlled by the Republicans and
might go in the wrong direction." And all candidates agree that, for
the moment, the best hope for change in Albany lies in having some
turnover in the legislature.
Queens voters all but elected the borough's first Hispanic state legislator yesterday, but two white males were winning in districts specifically drawn to benefit minority candidates.
Touting his connections to the Queens
political establishment yesterday, Democratic Assembly
hopeful Barry Grodenchik received a slew of endorsements
from party bigwigs, including the borough president and her
(New York Daily News)
Flushing's new Assembly district was
carefully crafted, state officials say, to boost the chances
of an Asian American being sent to Albany. But now some
community leaders, including two Asian-American candidates,
are complaining that Democratic Party officials did not even
consider an Asian for the seat before endorsing Barry
Grodenchik, who lives outside the district and works as an
aide to the Queens borough president.
Nearly a year ago John C. Liu made history
when he won a City Council seat in Flushing, Queens, one of
the city's major centers of Asian-American life, and became
the first New Yorker of Asian descent to win elective
office.Since then, courtesy of legislative redistricting, a
new Assembly district has been created in central Queens.
Anchored in Flushing and 53 percent Asian in population, it
was designed to make the district ripe for the election of
an Asian-American candidate.
(New York Times)
May 23, 2002
Queens Democrats chose Barry Grodenchik for the new Flushing assembly seat. He is set to run against Democratic district leader Ethel Chen and businessman Jimmy Meng. The party organization had offered to support Chen for the seat on the condition that she convince her ally, former Councilwoman Julia Harrison, not to run against incumbent state Senator Toby Stavisky, which she refused to do. As a result, the party ended up backing two white candidates in communities where whites are a minority - Flushing and Jackson Heights.
May 22, 2002
The Queens Democrats voted today to back Barry Grodenchik, who faces a tough challenge from Ethel Chen and Jimmy Meng in the race to represent the newly created Assembly District 22. Chen is running on a ticket with former Councilmember Julia Harrison, who is opposing Senator Toby Ann Stavisky in the state Senate primary. In all other cases, the party organization decided to back Assembly and Senate incumbents for re-election.
(Western Queens Gazette)
March 18, 2002
Ethel Chen was one of seventeen women honored for their service to their communities when Borough President Helen Marshall presented her with a Rosemary Gunning Award today at the "Outstanding Women of Queens" awards ceremony.
(Office of the Queens Borough President)
March 13, 2002
The State of New York Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment held a hearing today concerning the redistricting of state senate and assembly districts within the borough of Queens. Representatives of various groups, including Latino and Asian-American community organizations, provided feedback on perceived impacts of the proposed district boundaries.
(NY State - transcript of hearing)
February 21, 2002
Due to shifting demographics, two new Queens assembly districts have been proposed as part of general redistricting - one in downtown Flushing and one in Jackson Heights. They are expected to give Asians and Latinos greater political power in Albany.