Nov. 30, 2022
As the dust settles around the results of the 2022 midterm election, much has been made about Democratic losses in South Brooklyn. Driving these losses was a shift in Asian-American support from Democrats to Republicans.
Nov. 8 saw three Democratic Assembly members in the area lose their seats to Republican challengers. Unofficial city Board of Elections data reflects higher support towards Republicans than Democrats in assembly districts with large Asian-American populations. The data shows 62.4% of Assembly District 47 and 62.3% of Assembly District 49 cast votes for Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin. Asian-American populations in both of these Assembly Districts reach well over 40%.
These losses don’t translate into a serious blow to Democrats’ statewide legislative agenda given the party’s supermajority in Albany. However, they highlight the party’s missteps with Asian Americans, specifically on the topics of crime prevention and education.
“I think what I’m seeing of the Democratic Party is that very few of the [elected officials] are representing their constituents and their communities with integrity, and instead are being pulled to the ideology and the group of the most left extreme,” said Yiatin Chu, president of the Asian Wave Alliance, a New York-based non-partisan political club.
Chu said Asian-Americans’ shift towards Republicans, in part, can be traced back to 2018. That year, former Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio attempted to get rid of the Specialized High School Admissions Test, a standardized exam 8th graders across New York City take for admission to eight specialized high schools.
Asian-American parents protested strongly, feeling that their community was being unfairly targeted by the proposal to eliminate the test. These schools offer a majority of seats to Asian-Americans students, according to NYC Department of Education data–in 2022, out of the 4,053 8th graders offered admission to a specialized high school, 52.5% were Asian-American.
While the plan to abandon the test was scrapped, Chu said the fight motivated Asian-Americans to get more involved with local politics.
“The whole specialized high school issue wasn’t just an educational issue,” Chu said. “It really opened our eyes to how elected officials and politics connected to our day-to-day lives, and how it affected the opportunities of our children.”
The shift among voters in South Brooklyn was also shaped around crime concerns that transcended party lines, said Lucretia Regina-Potter, campaign manager for Republican Assembly candidate Alec Brook-Krasny.
Brook-Krasny, a former Democratic Assemblyman, defeated Assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus to return to the state legislature, this time as a Republican.
“Whatever political affiliation someone is registered as doesn’t necessarily mean they voted that way,” said Regina-Potter. “And this was a message I think that was sent out across the city, especially in South Brooklyn, that partisan politics doesn’t always work.”
For Asian-Americans, Republicans’ positions on public safety began to resonate in 2021 when mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa ran against now-Mayor Eric Adams with a tough-on-crime platform. Though Sliwa lost the election, his campaign made the community “more aware” of Republican positions on crime and made an impression on voters, said Chu.
Mikael Haxby, vice president of organizing at the New Kings Democrats, a local political club, echoed this view, describing the Asian-American support Zeldin and other Republican candidates received as a continuation of a trend started by Sliwa.
Zeldin, Brook-Krasny, and other GOP candidates such as Lester Chang heavily leaned on messages that played into these communities’ concerns about rising crime. In particular, Zeldin spoke out against anti-Asian hate crimes that took place in the city during his gubernatorial run.
“New York’s Asian American community is under attack,” Zeldin tweeted on May 29. “Raw, violent hate, using hands, knives, hammers, & more are causing serious bodily harm on others & even death.”
Seamus Campbell, a board member of the Independent Neighborhood Democrats, a grassroots political organization, said that Republicans have been “very successful with their message on crime” in South Brooklyn.
“The crime message there did really work,” said Campbell, noting that the Democrats “have not been very good at combating those messages.”
Hunter Rabinowitz, the president of the Brooklyn Young Democrats, a political club that works to elect progressive candidates to office, said Democrats’ messaging disarray put them at a disadvantage in South Brooklyn, especially when it came to reaching multilingual communities. This, combined with what he described as a sense that elected Democrats were disengaged with their constituents’ concerns, left a wide berth for Republicans to fill.
“People in this part of Brooklyn don’t always see their elected representatives and that hurts us a lot,” said Rabinowitz. “I don’t think that we’re doing enough probably to address [voters] concerns.”
Shloimy Rieger, legislative director for Simcha Eichenstein, the Democratic Assemblyman for Assembly District 48, which includes Borough Park and Midwood, described the election results as less about party affiliation and more about individual candidate responses to community issues.
“Obviously elections are meant to be the voice of the voters, the voice of the people that live in the district,” he said. “I believe that there is a way to get [voters] to vote whichever way you want if you address their concerns.”
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