I attended the Chin-Rajkumar (Council District 1) debate last night. Although the audience, mostly white, seemed to be evenly divided between the two candidates, I was struck by the aggressiveness of the Chin supporters, who heckled, yelling insults, sometimes gratuitous insults. Don't get me wrong, the Rajkumar crowd booed Margaret a couple of times too, but no verbal abuse that I heard.
A friend tells me that Christine Quinn's crowd behaved with similar aggressiveness at a mayoral debate the night before, more aggressive than the other candidates' people. Quinn and Chin are both incumbents, both carrying a lot of baggage and a lot of negatives. They are both supported by big real estate money, viewed by the public as its enemy. I wonder if those negatives have put their supporters on the defensive. The worse the candidate looks, the more her supporters will lash out? People are never more vicious than when they sense they are wrong.
Chin has a lot to answer for in public: promoting the Chinatown BID that serves big businesses and big developers, despite widespread local Chinatown opposition; supporting the NYU plan (albeit with a 25% reduction) despite pretty much universal opposition from her constituency except NYU's president; de-landmarking 135 Bowery to let First American International Bank demolish it -- the very same Queens bank that promoted the BID and contributes to her campaign; supporting a SoHo BID that is also widely opposed by the local constituency; initiating a bunch of absurdly draconian bills that luckily have gone nowhere -- steep, punitive fines on street food vendors, for example, that benefit established businesses and harm the immigrant little guy getting a first start. It's been a record of one slap in the face of her constituency after another. You'd think her opponents would be the ones heckling, yelling and threatening.
Rajkumar has one negative that I can see: she doesn't have a legislative track record. Chin makes a big deal of her lack of legislative experience, but really now, City Council is a first job -- there's no legislative job below it where you can acquire experience. Chin didn't have legislative experience before she was elected either. I have not seen Chin address Rajkumar's work as a civil rights public interest lawyer. That's her record. Chin ignores Rajkumar's civil rights record entirely. Attacking her for not having experience in the job that she's seeking to get experience in is the kind of comical cheap shot you use when you have nothing substantive to say.
Chin also points out that Rajkumar never attended SPURA meetings. But did Chin attend the meetings prior to becoming Councilmember? I never saw her there when I went to the meetings before she was elected. I'm told she attended five meetings in a three-year monthly process. I'm guessing all of them were after she was elected as councilmember.
The loudest commotion occurred when Rajkumar criticised Chin for initiating a bill to jail tourists who buy knock-off goods. The audience seemed to go wild with anger. I can see the virtue of burdening the demand, though jailing tourists seems extreme. But why did the audience respond to this issue? Do they resent tourists for encouraging a blackmarket? Gang violence has subsided in Chinatown. Is there more trouble under the surface?
With all the predictabilities in a debate, that response to the knock-off bill was the most alarming moment of the evening. The blackmarket, its potential for violence, its human smuggling and the desperation it brings, its secrecy and dangers, its exploitation, are still feared and hated in Chinatown.