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Chinese-American Appointed To Charter Commission
From Sing Tao Daily
July 13, 2002.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg officially appointed Zhuo Zhou [Wellington] Chen, an active member of the Flushing community, to the New York City Charter Review Commission on July 12. Chen is the only Chinese-American on the 13-member committee, which will determine by early September what, if any, proposals to modify the City Charter should appear on the November ballot.

In an interview, Chen said he hopes New Yorkers will give him active feedback. He believes that, since he is on the committee, "the other members will now think twice before suggesting any changes that could hurt the Asian community." And, he added, "they will be a bit more circumspect in what they have to say from now on."

The 13 members of the commission, culled from the two dominant political parties, come from the social service, education, finance, law, and construction fields. Their combined knowledge and diverse backgrounds will help them devise meaningful revision proposals. "These 13 people represent the best of New York — independence, wit, and honesty. I believe that they will carefully consider what requires improvement within the city, and if necessary, let the people of the city decide on any proposals in November," said Chen. In the coming months he will participate in public hearings throughout the five boroughs to better understand what citizens have to say before offering his own suggestions on amending the charter.

The head of the commission, former police commissioner Robert. J. McGuire, said that he was fortunate to be working with such a learned, devoted group of individuals.

Chen’s specialties in construction, urban design, and education will benefit the committee, Chen thinks. He has served as a trustee of the City University of New York since June 2000, when he was appointed by Governor George Pataki. Born in Taiwan, Chen has been active in Queens affairs for many years. As a community board member he contributed to the redevelopment of Flushing, while serving simultaneously as a commissioner of the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals. Currently, he is senior vice president of TDC Development Corporation, which focuses on design and building in Queens.

Chen modestly explained that he was named to the charter commission solely because an acquaintance active in the Chinese community had been unable to serve and recommended him to the mayor instead. He had learned of his appointment only two or three days before the interview and said he did not yet have a deep understanding of the commission’s responsibilities. He mentioned that the commission plans to resolve some voting issues.

Chen is interested in New York's voting regulations and how they compare with those of other cities. A close observer of the voting rights and interests of Chinese-Americans since the 1970s, Chen says city authorities who have studied voting matters concluded that New York City’s procedures differ considerably from that of other cities. He would like to know which methods work best.

Chen believes that improving voting regulations is very important in helping Chinese-Americans secure their rights and interests. From the 19th century on, the United States maintained a strictly anti-Chinese policy, a situation that improved only with legislation passed in 1965. Nevertheless, due to a lack of vocal advocates, the Chinese-American community still suffers from marginalization. It was only last year that the first Chinese-American was elected to the City Council. Chen hopes that the future will see more Chinese candidates for political office, who would be better able to protect community interests.

"I will carefully examine the studies that the authorities have compiled before judging as to where the root cause of the problem lies," said Chen. Some previous investigations may have been based on incorrect premises, he said, so he will be sure to scrutinize all of them.

Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund executive director Mei Qi Feng [Margaret Fung] said she was delighted at having a Chinese-American on the Charter Commission, but maintained that charter revision, especially where it concerns voting regulations, is a community issue that demands a considerable amount of feedback. Hasty decisions will hurt Asian-American voters.

Fung added that "it is a mistake not to allow New Yorkers an adequate period of time for discussion. Quick changes to the charter are a bad decision."

The commission has to submit its proposals for amending the city charter in early September. At this point, time is the chief enemy. Chen has informed City Hall of imminent plans to attend a conference in Asia, but the administration appears unconcerned. He has yet to receive notice of when the first meeting of the commission will take place.

Margaret Fung said there is not enough time this year to take consider voting issues. Two months is not enough time for people to participate in hearings. The last charter revision meetings also took place during the summer, when a lot of people were out of the city and unaware of what was happening.

Although the city government believes that it has conducted enough in-depth investigations into voting rights and interests, Fung argues that "these studies are not wide-reaching enough in so far as understanding the voting patterns of Asian-Americans is concerned." The studies do not analyze the impact of current regulations on Asian voters, leading to a "neglect of community needs."

In addition, Fung is concerned about the commission’s deliberations on whether or not to institute nonpartisan elections, which could hurt Asian-American voters, as parties usually provide citizens with to become acquainted with the views of different candidates.

Wellington Chen said he would retain an open mind and will accept feedback from people in all walks of life. Citizens are welcome to contact him by email at [email protected].

Translated from the Chinese by Kelvin Wu

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