If you couldn’t already tell from all the campaign stickers and signs they were lugging down Fulton Street, Sharon Brown and Betty Gray are voting for John Liu as comptroller in Tuesday’s primary run-off.
They support Liu because they think his background in finance and public service would suit the city’s chief fiscal
analyst. And raised by a poor immigrant family, he “knows what it’s like at the bottom,” Gray said.
But one point divides them, as it does for many in their neighborhood: the importance of race in this election.
Liu, who became the first Asian-American city councilmember in 2001, has a shot at bringing similar distinction to
the comptroller post.
“Race has nothing to do with it,” Brown said.
“Actually, it is an added plus,” said Gray, who even got her campaign sign autographed. “It’s nice to see different
The two had just come from Friday’s rally a block away at The Lab Banquet Hall in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a predominantly black neighborhood.
With a primary run-off against David Yassky — a white, Jewish city councilman — only days away, this was a strategic campaign stop for Liu, whose success is expected to hinge on support from communities of color. Fifty-one percent of voters in black neighborhoods cast votes for Liu in the first round.
And he rides into Tuesday on a wave of excitement larger than his own campaign. The city’s Asian communities saw unprecedented gains in victories and voter turnout in the primary. Three Asian-American city council candidates won their elections outright in the first round — the most ever.
But many black New Yorkers are relishing this moment, too. They can identify with the city’s fastest growing minority community finally gaining more fair representation in public office.
Herman Merritt, 58, from Bedford-Stuyvesant, who also attended Friday’s rally, compared it to “how African-Americans felt with David Dinkins (the city’s first black mayor) and Barack Obama.” He feels you can’t overstate the importance of race in this election.
And yet others feel they can more than just relate; some feel they might even have a stake in the success.
“His struggle is my struggle,” said Councilwoman Letitia James (D-35), who won her primary on Sept. 15. For the councilwoman, endorsing the Taiwan-born Liu isn’t just political posturing, but repayment to a community who allied with black neighborhoods in the ’60s and ’70s when no one else dared. It was an era of white flight and urban decay that nearly bankrupted the city, James said.
“When no one wanted to invest in our communities,” she said. “Asians were pioneers in opening businesses.”
James also reminded the attendees of the 300 workers, “mostly people of color,” who were laid off at the Administration of Children’s Services earlier that day, and of the need for someone to challenge the mayor as comptroller.
And for a comptroller, there is component of advocacy for minority communities, according to State Assemblyman Nick Perry (D-58).
“You can have an activist comptroller,” said Perry, who spoke earlier at the rally in support of Liu, “someone that highlights every instance where monies might be spent in a discriminatory way in education, employment of city workers and other essential services.”
But for every black supporter of Liu who feels there’s no escaping race in this year’s election, there was someone like Shirley Crosson, from Bedford Stuyvesant, who clings to this ideal of an elusive post-racial America, clutching the gold Jewish pendant around her neck.
“I don’t see color,” Crosson said. “I’m black, and I wear a Mezuzah, hey!”