Rory Lancman says he's at home against Meng in an 'Asian' district
If you walked the seven blocks from the Broadway LIRR station to Rory Lancman's congressional campaign kick-off event on Northern Boulevard, you would have passed nearly two dozen Korean- and Chinese-owned restaurants, car dealerships, pharmacies and churches, most of which were established since the late '90s.
It's illustrative of the challenge Lancman, an army veteran, lawyer and, for the last five years, an assemblyman, will face in his upcoming primary.
Standing between him and the nomination is Assemblywoman Grace Meng, who has the backing of the Queens County Democratic organization and stands to become the first-ever Asian-American member of Congress from New York. At the announcement of the county's endorsement of Meng, one state senator called her "the future" of the party.
The population in the newly created district is approximately 40 percent Asian, although Jews are a significant voting bloc there as well, and have demonstrated an ability to show up on Primary Day in higher percentages than other groups of voters.
Standing in Plaut Triangle with the afternoon sun beating down, Lancman, in a dark suite and tie with a simple white shirt, positioned himself as an independent Democrat, unconnected to the political establishment but effective all the same. He talked about local legislation he was involved in that he said was copied in Congress, and said that people who aren't wealthy needed an advocate like him in Washington.
"The simple truth is the deck is stacked against working Americans and this Congress isn't doing anything about it," Lancman said.
"Mitt Romney, who will be the Republican nominee, pays a lower tax rate than the folks standing behind me," Lancman said. "Our tax system is rigged to benefit the super-rich." There were about 60 people standing behind Lancman, none of whom were elected leaders.
There was a man from the Northeast Flushing Civic Association, who said Lancman was a very responsive assemblyman.
"He came to our meetings very frequently," said Peter Brancazio told me before the event. "You call him up and he'll do whatever you want."
Brancazio's wife, Ronnie, leaned close to him as he spoke and assured me he meant it as a compliment.
He said he didn't like that the Democratic Party establishment was supporting Meng. (The county leader's cousin in the City Council, Elizabeth Crowley, announced she was running too, possibly taking white and Catholic voters away from Lancman.)
"I can't stand this kind of machine politics, that one person gets to choose who gets the nominated," Brancazio said.
I asked if they thought other voters might be motivated at the prospect of electing the first Asian-American congresswoman from New York.
"That's good too," Ronnie said, "but our concern is to get the very best person."
"Asian-Americans will vote for Asian-Americans ... It's not right but that's what happens," Peter Brancazio said.
Standing next to Brancazio were four men from the Jamaica Muslim Center on 168th Street.
"Any concern we have, he comes forward," said Akhter Hossain, a 45-year-old computer engineer. "We need a speed bump. He said he'll help us."
Of the four men, two said they were registered Democrats. One was a Republican and one not registered in any party.
After the event, Lancman spoke with some reporters.
He didn't want to talk about Meng or any other candidate in the race. One television reporter prefaced her question by saying the Asian community "has never actually met you."
"I don't know if you can say that," Lancman said, smiling, waving his hand to the other reporters surrounding him.
"The Assembly district that I have right now is incredibly diverse," he said. "On any given week, I can be in a Korean or Chinese church, a synagogue, a Sikh temple, a Bangladeshi mosque, you name it. That diversity of my current district really prepares me well to run in the sixth congressional district.
"So I have a great relationship with the Asian community, the Chinese community, the Korean community, the South Asian community, both the Bangladeshi community, the Indian community, the Sikh-Indian community, the Hindu-Indian community. And of course, also part of the Asian community, the Bukharian Jewish community."
"By the way," he added. There's a Korean church and senior center down the street, and "I'm there often enough that people think I'm a congregant."