If you live in any of the areas along Sunset Park, Bensonhurst, where there has been an incredible influx of Asian residents, you now likely reside inside a district that was drawn to give Brooklyn's Asian community a voice in the New York senate. And that voice is almost certain to be Iwen Chu.
Iwen Chu was born in Taiwan and worked as a TV journalist before she came to New York when she was 27 to study sociology at Brooklyn College, a CUNY school. She then worked for the Chinese papers in the city, reporting on the very same communities she later came to help by working for Assemblymember Peter Abbate as his chief of staff for the last 10 years. She went by Irene.
Now, she's running to represent most of Brooklyn's Asian community in the Senate. "One thing I can do to make them proud is listing my Chinese name up there. They can see there is a Chinese state senator."
The district, tucked in between those currently represented by Sen. Andrew Gounardes (SD22, running in the redrawn SD26) and Sen. Simcha Felder (SD17, running in SD22), is 46% Asian, 30% White, and 18% Hispanic, and voters in the new district voted 67% for President Biden in 2020. Chu is running along the generally progressive lines of New York Democrats that favor the interests of her large immigrant community, that increasingly votes. When she announced her run back in February, no one else did. She is running unopposed in the primary, with just about every politician representing Brooklyn lending her their support.
That sets up high expectations, but Ms. Chu is a formidable candidate. She speaks Taiwanese, Cantonese, and Mandarin, in addition to English, and knows both, the community as well as how Albany works. And she has lived the immigrant experience in this city - arriving not fluent in English, struggling to navigate and make sense of life in the city that is busy, impatient and so expensive. And in many ways more backward than Taiwan.
Ms. Chu supports universal healthcare and childcare, building more affordable housing, especially for seniors, expanding gifted and talented programs, making property taxes more manageable, and extending support for the restaurant industry.
We spoke last week about why she's running. Below is our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity.