HomeAsian AmericansCould NY have a second Asian American in Congress?

Could NY have a second Asian American in Congress?

By Ti-Hua Chang, AsAmNews Staff Writer

Yuh-Line Niou came to America from Taiwan when she was just two months old. In November 2016, she won the race for New York State Assembly, becoming one of three openly autistic state legislators in the United States.

Now, Niou is running for Congress. If elected, she will become the first openly autistic member of Congress.

Niou is a progressive’s progressive. As an autistic legislator, she is an advocate for the disabled. She is pro-abortion, favors LGBTQ+ rights, wants to ban assault weapons, supports the Green New Deal, supports expanding the US Supreme Court and term limits for members of Congress, and wants to end the filibuster and defund the police. She also supports more funding for affordable housing, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and opposes age limitations for office holders.

Niou is 1 of 12 candidates running in Democratic Primary for 10th Congressional District

The 39-year-old Niou is one of a dozen candidates for the recently redrawn 10h Congressional district of New York. This district covers Lower Manhattan and some Northeastern portions of Brooklyn including two major Chinese areas. The new district is 40% Asian along with White, Latinx and Jewish voters. Since 2017, Niou has represented the 65th Assembly District of New York, which encompasses Lower Manhattan including Chinatown, the Latinx Lower East Side and wealthy downtown White areas like Battery Park City.

Niou talks with AsAmNews one-on-one

In an interview with AsAmNews, Niou said her six years serving these communities means voters know her well.

“I have a track record…I know them. I really know them. I’ve been in their homes. I’ve even walked their dogs or taken care of their kids. I filed their paperwork for them,” she said.

“It’s also like building relationships. These are important. We understand what people need and how to service them, and like that’s what the goal of a public servant is: serve your community and make sure that people have what they need.”

Initially ignored, polls have Niou in 2nd place

Political Pundits initially disregarded Niou as a contender. But two recent polls had her as the candidate with the second highest support. In addition to running a strong campaign, Niou appears to enjoy making personal connections with voters over the last five years she has been in office. She appears to continue this in her present campaign.

“I try to center myself with a one-on-one conversation,” Niou said.
Because I think that’s the only time that you’re really getting to know someone. … I do enjoy talking to individuals. Like I love learning how, why people think they do. What makes them passionate about something, things that they care about. I enjoy that part.”

On August 7th AsAmNews saw Niou interacting with individual supporters in a strong campaign effort in Brooklyn. There she is not as well known as she is in her home turf of Manhattan. Just over 50 volunteers, White, Asian, Latinx, Black, young and old turned out to canvass for the Assemblywoman.

Niou’s supporters take a group photo // Photo by Ti-Hua Chang

Niou believes in diverse representation

Niou believes diversity matters and Congress needs diverse representation.

“All policy is made better when different perspectives (are) on the table. You have different levels,” she said. “That’s why representation matters. Because, for example, somebody who’s Asian American hearing a sentence, it can be very different hearing it than somebody who is white, or somebody is Black or grew up Latinx. That sentence can mean different things to people…If you don’t have that lens you might be missing something.”

Niou on combatting anti-Asian hate

When AsAmNews asked Niou how she would combat Anti-Asian hate if she was in Congress, she did not mention law enforcement actions stressing government should, “…make sure that our social service organizations have the ability to be able to do a lot of the real community safety work.”

“Look there’s job insecurity. There’s food insecurity. There’s housing insecurity. All these things make us feel insecure,” she said. “All these things are reasons why we need to make sure our community organizations are getting the funding that they deserve and this is why I brought in $30 million to combat anti-Asian hate and make sure they have the funding that they need. We never had that before.”

Niou supports increased sustainability

“I think we have to make sure that we have an ability to pass the Green New Deal,” Niou said. “The Green New Deal is really really great because of the fact that we would be greening our public schools, we would be greening our public housing, making it so that things would be energy efficient and all those dollars would go back to making sure the capital fixes are being done.”

Niou picketed by Chinatown Workers’ group

Recently the Chinese Staff Workers Association picketed Niou claiming she was not a genuine progressive. The association alleged that Niou awarded a restauranteur who had refused to give back pay to his workers even though a court had ordered him to do so. Niou did not deny this responding that she gave awards to “several restaurants and non-profits for helping (during) the pandemic and providing food.” She also questioned if there was political motivation in the attack on her.

Niou clarifies stance on proposed jail in Chinatown

Some Manhattan Chinatown community activists have complained that Niou has only given lip service to opposing the proposed 39-story mega jail, which many business owners believe could precipitate the end of Chinatown economically. Construction would block off streets for five years and keep away customers. Customers are already in short supply following the pandemic and even post 9/11.

Niou confirmed that she has “stood against” the jail “since the beginning” in response to AsAmNews’ text inquiry about her stance on the jail.

Niou stands by her support of the BDS movement

Professor Halper does note that Niou’s support of BDS, Boycott, Divestment and Sanction of Israel, could hurt her with the Jewish voters in Brooklyn. Niou says it’s a free speech issue for peaceful support of Palestinians and has refused to alter her position on this issue despite some Jewish leaders denouncing it. One of her Jewish canvassers in Brooklyn told AsAmNews, this position did not bother her, since she also supported BDS.

Niou speaks with voters // Photo by Ti-Hua Chang

If elected, Niou Plans to be an active progressive voice in Congress

Niou says if elected in November, she will join the Congressional Progressive Caucus. While Professor Halper says Niou has a decent chance to win, he argues that the progressive wing of the Democratic party is Donald Trump’s best friend. Their positions like supporting defunding the police, Transgender persons’ use of bathrooms of their gender identity, and Critical Race Theory are, “Red meat to Trump.”

“This gives him his best ammunition against Democrats,” Halper says.

He adds though that Niou could become a celebrity Congressmember like Ocasio-Cortez, if Niou is as adept in her use of social media.

The New York Times endorses Niou’s opponent

In her interview with the New York Times’ Editorial Board, Niou was quoted as saying, “I look at everything through an economic-justice lens, a racial and social justice lens, an environmental-justice lens and, of course, through a disability lens.” She added, “I think that my district cares the most about what The New York Times has to say.”

The Times, though, endorsed her opponent Dan Goldman, the former lead prosecutor in the first impeachment trial of Donald Trump. The Times cited Goldman’s knowledge of and connections within Washington D.C. and his ability to defend democracy. Niou was not mentioned by name or ethnicity. The Times endorsed three white men for the three Congressional Democratic primaries for New York.

Niou has key endorsements

Endorsed by the influential Working Families party and environmental Sunrise Movement, Niou has a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood and a 0% NRA rating.

The race between Niou and Goldman is tight

A recent poll by Emerson College has Goldman ahead at 22% with Niou a “close second” at 17%. The margin of error is 4.3% so Niou is considered to be a viable contender.

Thomas Halper, Professor of Political Science at Niou’s Graduate School Alma Mater, Baruch College; says she has a chance to win. He believes the August 23rd primary will have a very low turnout with so many candidates; so a few voters could make the difference.

“They’re all progressive candidates and usually the one with the most aggressive and organized campaign with personal contact wins… that’s how AOC won. (Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez),” Professor Halper said.

Goldman, an heir to the Levi-Strauss clothing empire of $7.9 Billion, has spent $2 million on TV ads. But if voters are vacationing, as is traditional in August for wealthy New York City residents, there are few watching these English language ads.

The primary vote is August 23rd though early voting has already begun.


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