SOUTHERN BROOKLYN — New York State Assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus fired her receptionist on Wednesday for making racist remarks about Chinese New Yorkers related to coronavirus.
As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the New York area is rising, so are tensions. Chinatown businesses in Brooklyn and across the city are suffering from decreased business. Local councilmembers and public officials have encouraged New Yorkers not to panic. Despite the efforts to maintain equilibrium, some public officials in Brooklyn have been under fire for racist comments they or their staff have made.
Mathylde Frontus represents the 46th Assembly District, covering all of Coney Island and Seagate, as well as parts of Bath Beach, Bay Ridge, Brighton Beach, Dyker Heights, and Gravesend.
Marilyn Franks, a receptionist and office assistant for Frontus, shared a Facebook post that said, “We urge citizens to stay away from Chinese supermarkets, shops, fast food outlets, Restaurant, [sic] and Business,” the NY Daily News first reported.
“Most of the owners went back to China to celebrate the Chinese New [Year] Celebrations,” she wrote. “They are returning and some are bringing along the Coronavirus. Rather be safe than sorry.”
The post also insisted, “keep our people from this deadly virus.”
We could not access the original Facebook post, as Marilyn Franks’ page is set to private.
Assemblywoman Frontus fired Franks and released a statement saying, “I condemn the racism, xenophobia and violence that has targeted the Chinese American community. I share your dismay, and I apologize for the message and the hurt it has caused.”
It has never been more important to speak out against racism and ignorance. Bigotry and fear based on misinformation can take hold in communities that do not talk to each other. In the midst of a public health crisis, in the heart of the most international city in America, we cannot afford panic and prejudice.
Frontus added that her entire team will undergo “further cultural sensitivity training,” and in a separate email to Bklyner, her spokesperson Jacob Goldfinger added that the assemblywoman, “has five degrees, including master’s degrees in social work, clinical psychology and theology from Harvard Divinity School. She first joined a unity group as a 12-year-old high school freshman. It is not an overstatement to say it is her life’s work to combat these attitudes and promote cross-cultural understanding.”
The New York Post reported last month that assemblywoman Frontus has dealt with staff upheaval throughout her first year in office. The Post reports that more than 11 staff members have left since the freshman lawmaker took office. According to the assemblywoman’s office, Franks had been with Frontus since the beginning, November of 2018, and had known her well-before that.
A press conference was originally scheduled to be held today with the assemblywoman and leaders from the Asian-American community, but has now been pushed to 1:00 p.m. on Friday, March 13 at the assemblywoman’s Coney Island office.
But the conversation didn’t end there. A member of Community Board 13, that serves Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Gravesend and Seagate, spoke up in response to the assemblywoman’s comments, saying that Frontus should not have apologized for her staffer’s racist post.
Ronald X. Stewart, who was appointed to the board by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, commented on a Facebook post about Frontus’s receptionist on Tuesday. According to the NY Daily News, he wrote, “These Chinese restaurants in our community make millions of dollars off us.” He added, “They don’t hire us; don’t donate to any of our events and express racism against us.”
Brooklyn Borough President Adams tweeted his condemnation:
I condemn in the strongest possible terms the comments made this week by a community board member. Borough Hall’s counsel advises that the proper course of action is to not reappoint the board member. Therefore, his last day serving on the board will be March 31st, 2020.
— Eric Adams (@BPEricAdams) March 4, 2020
Stewart was not reachable for comment and the district manager of Community Board 13, Eddie Mark, said he had “no comment at this time.”
“This unfortunate incident showed lack of sensitivity for those affected by COVID-19, all the while instigating groundless fear against our community,” Asian American Federation spokesperson said in an email. “Currently, there are just four people who have tested positive for the virus – just 4. Not one of them is Asian. That said, the virus does not attack based on race; xenophobic remarks against the Asian community will only deter the cooperation we need from everyone for public safety. We are already beginning to see the economic harm from COVID-19 hysteria spreading far beyond Asian enclaves. We hope our leaders will continue to ensure that this kind of xenophobic messaging does not tear down the community trust in this diverse city.”
UPDATED with additional comments.