Niou shocks Cancel in 65th District; Glick easily beats Fouratt in 66th

Yuh-Line Niou was all smiles Tuesday night after handily winning the six-way primary for the Democratic nomination for the 65th Assembly District, virtually assuring that she will become the first Asian-American ever to represent the district covering Chinatown in Albany. Photo by Tequila Minsky

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | In a stunning victory, Yuh-Line Niou was declared the winner of Tuesday’s Democratic primary election in Lower Manhattan’s 65th Assembly District.

Niou shockingly toppled Alice Cancel, who had won the seat in April in a special election to succeed Sheldon Silver, after the former Assembly speaker was stripped of his office at the end of last year after being convicted on federal corruption charges.

Cancel finished a disappointing fourth out of six candidates in the hotly contested primary.

Meanwhile, in the Village’s 66th District, veteran Assemblymember Deborah Glick easily cruised to victory over fiery activist Jim Fouratt by a margin of about 80 percent to 20 percent. Glick won 3,151 votes to Fouratt’s 777, with a total of 3,928 votes cast in the contest.

The Board of Elections still must certify the results as official, but there was no question who won either Assembly race.

According to the State Board of Elections, Niou won 2,742 votes. District Leader Jenifer Rajkumar came in a distant second, with 1,612 votes, besting her rival co-district leader, Paul Newell, who finished third, with 1,381.

Cancel mustered 1,069 votes. Chinatown businessman Don Lee garnered 984, and Gigi Li, the immediate past chairperson of Community Board 3, finished last, taking 827 ballots.

With more than double the turnout than the West Side race, around 9,000 votes were cast in the 65th A.D. contest.

Yuh-Line Niou, second from left, celebrating her primary win on Tuesday night, was congratulated by one of her biggest supporters, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, center. Also on hand were Jessica Lappin, the president of the Downtown Alliance business improvement district, second from right, and Queens Assemblymembers Francisco Moya, far left, and Niou’s former boss, Ron Kim, far right. Photo by Tequila Minsky

According to a Grand St. source, Niou was expected to have strong support in that heavy-voting Lower East Side enclave of the district. Despite there being two other Chinese-American candidates in the race, Niou was also expected to do well in Chinatown, where she had the backing of the area’s main political club, the United Democratic Organization. Among Niou’s key political backers were City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former Comptroller John Liu and state Senator Daniel Squadron.

‘Time for trust’

In a statement to The Villager the day after the primary, Niou said it’s now time to “restore trust” in Albany. She also seemingly referenced a negative campaign card that was mailed out to Grand St. voters, among others, that accused those politicians who endorsed her of only doing so to “pander to the Chinese vote,” along with a series of other attack points against her.

“Tonight, we open a new door and a new chapter for Lower Manhattan, and I am honored and humbled by the trust the voters have placed in me,” Niou said. “This victory is one more step forward for New York, and tonight we silenced the voices of bigotry and division with our campaign of unity, hope and inclusion. Now we have important work to do to restore the voters’ trust in our state government by fighting for better schools, good jobs, affordable housing and a Downtown community that is welcoming to all.”

Alice Cancel was upbeat last year after announcing her candidacy at a Southbridge Towers event for the April 19 special election to fill the vacant 65th Assembly District seat. She went on to win the Democratic nomination to run in "the special," which she won. But she was unable to hold her seat in an open Democratic primary this Tuesday. File photo by Tequila Minsky
Alice Cancel was upbeat last year after announcing her candidacy at a Southbridge Towers event for the April 19 special election to fill the vacant 65th Assembly District seat. She went on to win the Democratic nomination to run in “the special,” which she won. But she was unable to hold her seat in an open Democratic primary this Tuesday. File photo by Tequila Minsky

In conceding, Cancel congratulated Niou — and indicated she would try to reclaim the seat in the next election.

“While I am disappointed that I will not be able to continue to work as your representative in the New York State Assembly, that certainly does not mean the task is done,” Cancel said. “I will never stop fighting to improve the quality of life of the community or stop bringing attention to the issues most important to us: affordable housing, local control of education, overdevelopment, and rejuvenating Chinatown small businesses.

“I was honored to have been challenged by some of the most knowledgeable and dedicated candidates, who brought an incredible amount of talent and earnestness to this campaign,” Cancel continued. “I congratulate Yuh-Line on a hard-fought victory. I look forward to working with her on continuing to improve the lives of the residents of the 65th Assembly District. This district has been my home for 30 years, I remain as its district leader and I know you will see me again in two years.”

Per Democratic Party procedure, Cancel was chosen in February as the Democratic nominee for the April special election at a closed vote of about 200 Democratic County Committee members. Niou dramatically dropped out of the County Committee vote at the last minute when it became clear that Silver’s Truman Democratic Club would throw their support to Cancel and not her.

(On Tuesday, Judy Rapfogel, Silver’s former chief of staff and a power in Truman, was seen out campaigning for Cancel on Grand St., handing out fliers for the candidate.)

Cancel won the April special election, fending off a stiff challenge from Niou, former chief of staff of Queens Assemblymember Ron Kim, running on the Working Families Party line. Lester Chang, running on the Republican line and two other party lines, finished third.

Racking up endorsements

Newell, who came in second in the County Committee vote, and had challenged Silver in 2008, was considered a front-runner in the primary election, and won the endorsement of the Daily News. Meanwhile, Niou won The New York Times endorsement. Over all, Niou and Newell both racked up the most endorsements for the primary.

Newell also won a bitter battle against Rajkumar for the support of their home political club, Downtown Independent Democrats. However, D.I.D.’s strength is not on the East Side, and the 65th is essentially an East Side district — plus, Rajkumar still did better than him in the primary.

A poster for Jenifer Rajkumar on a truck parked outside the Grand St. co-ops on Tuesday. Yes, apparently The New York Times did once describe her as “Not just Jenny from the block.” Photo by Grand Pix

Sean Sweeney, a power in D.I.D., had blasted Niou as a newcomer to the district Yet, voters gravitated to her personableness, and she also was the only candidate — besides Cancel, with her few months in Albany — with actual experience working in the state Legislature.

Li ran with the support of Councilmember Margaret Chin. Councilmember Rosie Mendez, who had backed Cancel in the special election, switched to Newell for the primary after her political organization, Coalition for a District Alternative, or CoDA, endorsed him.

After Silver’s downfall, political consultants predicted that an Asian-American candidate would do well in the district, which is more than one-third Asian-American. The question was whether several of them running in the same primary would only dilute the power of the Chinatown vote.

Niou’s historic win on Tuesday all but assures victory in the November general election in the heavily Democratic district.

Among other things, Cancel struggled with fundraising as the primary race heated up, leading to a striking episode last month when the incumbent suddenly bolted in the middle of a candidate forum on Mott St. to attend a fundraiser.

Her husband and political adviser, former state committeeman John Quinn, had told The Villager they would run a “grassroots campaign,” relying on Cancel’s strong base in the local New York City Housing Authority developments. But it proved inadequate to beat Niou’s more organized and energetic campaign.

Chinatown vote

Along with Grand St., Chinatown was a key factor in the race. As Virgina Kee, the president emeritus of U.D.O., who recruited Niou to run for Assembly, told The Villager last year, “The Asian-American community is hungry to have representation. We want to be proud of the person we send to Albany.”

If elected, Niou would be only the second Asian-American in the New York State Legislature, joining her former boss, Kim.

D.I.D.’s Sweeney said Niou’s win indeed was a shocker.

“Yes, a lot of people were surprised,” he said, “especially winning by the wide margin. We also thought Alice would have done better, considering Truman was (I think) supporting her.

“No one can figure out why the other two Chinatown candidates did not get a greater percentage. It is doubtful The New York Times endorsement would influence Asian-American voters.”

On second thought, Sweeney said, the support of John Liu probably was a big help for Niou in Chinatown.

As for the 66th A.D. race, the turnout was light. One woman exiting the poll site at P.S. 41 on Tuesday afternoon — only the second voter to emerge in a half-hour span — would not reveal who she supported. When she was told that the reporter was from The Villager, she pulled out a folded-up clipping of an ad by the Village Independent Democrats club that recently ran in the newspaper that endorsed Glick, Ben Yee for State Committee and a slate of judicial candidates backed by V.I.D. and the area’s other political clubs.

“It was a good way to get me to tell you who I voted for,” she said, as she re-pocketed the ad in her purse.

Lee Berman won the State Committee race for Lower Manhattan's 65th Assembly District.
Lee Berman won the State Committee race for Lower Manhattan’s 65th Assembly District.

State Committee races

“It’s not all bad news,” D.I.D.’s Sweeney reflected. “In the 66th A.D., Ben Yee trounced John Scott for State Committee, by some 80 percent to 20 percent. In the 65th A.D., Lee Berman — endorsed by Newell — beat out Christopher Marte and Dodge Landesman for State Committee.”

It was a close race on the East Side. Of roughly 6,070 votes cast, Berman won about 37 percent, to Marte’s 33 percent and Landesman’s 30 percent.

Berman, 49, is a lifetime East River Houses co-op resident and a member of the legal staff for the New York Police Department. A strong schools advocate, he was formerly a member of Community Education Council District 1. Landesman is the son of Rocco Landesman, the prominent Broadway theater owner and former National Endowment for the Arts chairperson. Marte, whose parents immigrated to New York from the Dominican Republic, is a lifelong Lower East Sider who grew up in a tenement right next to Adam Purple’s former Garden of Eden, and as a kid worked in his father’s bodega on Rivington St. He and Landesman are both in their 20s.

At a debate of the three candidates last Friday at the Henry Street Settlement moderated by The Villager, Berman repeatedly bashed what he called “The Shelly Silver and John Quinn political machine.” He declared that it’s time for real change in the whole district, and that “everybody” must be represented.