John Choe officially announced his candidacy for the 20th Council District on Monday and promptly won the endorsement of the Queens County Democratic Organization the next day.
The endorsement gave a boost to former Chief of Staff for Councilman John Liu – who currently holds the seat, but it was the most hotly contested of all the endorsements made that day. Choe faced a strong challenge from District Leader James Wu for the endorsement, but following the abstention votes by District Leaders Julia Harrison and Martha Flores Vasquez, Wu relinquished his votes to Choe “for the sake of party unity.”
“I’m totally happy with the situation,” said Wu. “Of course I would’ve liked the endorsement, but the will of the voters is more important.” Wu emphasized that he still supported John Liu for Comptroller, explaining that he understood why Liu would back one of his former staffers. “Having Liu running strong citywide will still help me on the ballot,” said Wu.
Wu said that while he could have tried to force a deadlock and move on to more rounds of voting, the two abstentions made it impossible for him to win, because even assuming he won the plurality of the votes, he would still lack a majority. So the choice became a stalemate from Liu’s district, which Wu said would look bad for everyone, or Wu would have to switch his votes to his opponent.
“I do think abstention is a huge cop out,” said Wu.
Vasquez said she and Harrison made a “mutual decision” to leave the decision to the voting community. Vasquez said she wanted a candidate to represent the whole district, “not just the Asian district.”
“In this district we go one of two ways: we want an Asian candidate or a qualified candidate. I think this is the year for a qualified candidate,” said Vasquez. She also said that Wu changed his vote out of “anger and retaliation.”
Harrison said she did not appreciate U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), the county Democratic Chairman, dictating which candidate would be endorsed. “There is a united front in the community to not have someone shoved down our throats – let it be a free election and let the community decide for itself.”
She also said “I don’t know how John Choe can possibly win with three Korean people in the race.” She then said her sources tell her that Choe is “perceived as an advocate of a North Korean government […] The anxiety is very strong about John Choe proselytizing to the young people of immigrant parents selling them on the philosophy of the North Korean government.”
Choe brushed off the accusation as “crazy talk,” calling it “a desperate attempt by opponents to distract the electorate from the real issues.”
“Working families care about how they’re going to support their families, provide health care and a good education to their children. They care about maintaining the quality of life for their neighborhoods and to work with their neighbors to improve their community,” Choe said. “That’s what I’m running on and that’s what I’m qualified to help people as a candidate and elected official.”
Choe also noted the double standard for multiple Korean candidates: “When there are multiple white candidates no one says they are splitting the vote.”
The Queens County Democratic Organizations also endorsed Bill Thompson for Mayor, Eric Gioia for Public Advocate and John Liu for Comptroller. All the incumbents, including Helen Sears, received the party’s backing. The Democrats also endorsed Jerry Iannece for the 19th district; Deirdre Feerick for the 26th district; Frank Gulluscio for the 32nd district; and Karen Koslowitz for the 29th district.