What will be the most important race in New York this election cycle? According to City Comptroller Scott Stringer (D), it’ll be the race for Assembly District 65, between Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou (D-Chinatown, Financial District) and challenger Grace Lee. And at this time, he is fully behind the incumbent.
Niou’s re-election campaign kickoff party took place yesterday at 5 p.m. at the Grandlo Cafe, 168 Broome St. The event saw appearances from City Comptroller Scott Stringer; Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (D); Council Member Mark Levine (D-Manhattan Valley, Manhattanville); Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan, Brooklyn); Council Member Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn); and several Democratic club leaders.
In 2016, Assembly District 65 was in an uncertain transitional period. Its assembly seat was left vacant after Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was expelled and arrested on federal corruption charges. In his wake, the City held a special election, and several candidates stepped up and take the reins – including Niou, who ran on the Working Families Party (WFP) ticket.
Niou narrowly lost the special election to Democratic candidate Alice Cancel in May. Not one to be dissuaded, however, she challenged Cancel again in the primary election – this time taking the victory.
As Jerrold Nadler pointed out, it’s difficult to shine and even harder to challenge the powers that be as an assembly member. This didn’t stop Niou from trying, however; since taking office, she made a name for herself with her willingness to challenge party leadership and powerful lobbying groups.
In 2018, she played an instrumental role in unseating the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) and helping the Democrats take back the State Senate. The following year, she was a key figure in the legislature’s fight for rent regulation, which culminated in the passage of the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act.
“I served in the assembly for sixteen years,” said Nadler. “I saw how difficult it is to affect change, and to stand up to the leadership in power: to the lobbying groups, the real estate industry. So when Scott Stringer introduced me to Yuh-Line Niou, and said she was a great candidate, I said, ‘Okay, we’ll take a chance on her.’ And boy, did she prove him right.”
However, as Niou outlined during an emotional closing speech, her community is still in dire straits. At the moment, her district still has one of the highest homelessness rates in the borough. She also touched on the epidemic of predatory lending in her district, driven by merchant cash advance companies that give out loans to small businesses with exorbitant interest rates.
“When I’m walking down the street in this district, I see so much homelessness,” said Niou. “In our public schools, we need laundromats in order to wash children’s clothes. There are more homeless kids in our school district than anywhere. And the most common cause of homelessness is domestic violence. Yet we have a legislature that won’t even hold itself accountable for sexual harassment.”
But in order to address those problems, Niou has to hold onto her position – and that won’t be easy. Her opponent, Grace Lee, filed a record-breaking $154,000 in her challenge for the assembly seat. This, said Stringer, is a trend that will continue into the campaign; he predicts that Lee will outspend Niou by a huge margin.
“Niou will not win this race by outspending her opponent,” said Stringer. “No matter what we do, she’s going to be outspent two or three to one. We not only have to raise the money, but we also have to make up for it in the way we go out and do the door-knocking and the day-to-day campaigning.”
Regardless, Niou has remained optimistic about her chances, expressing gratitude for the coalition of support she has built.
“Our district has gone through so much, and we stayed united the entire time,” said Niou. “That’s what makes me so proud to be your representative. And it’s what makes me want to put my faith in all of you to make it possible for us to continue to have a voice.”
The election will take place on Tuesday, June 23.