In an interview last week, state Senator Liu argued that a host of actions needs to occur at all levels of government to raise public awareness about racism against Asians.
“The onslaught of anti-Asian hate cannot be pinned on the mayor solely, whether it be de Blasio or Adams or anybody else,” he said. “The fact that he’s prioritizing elevating the perception and reality of public safety on streets and in the subway system — that’s a concrete step in the right direction.”
“This is a person who has a thorough understanding of the Asian American community,” he added. “And that’s because he spent so much time in the community getting to know people, practicing customs and traditions.”
The work of building that political capital with Asians comes amid a surge in Asian residents, which helped drive the city’s growth in population in the 2020 census count. Queens and Brooklyn both experienced double-digit increases in the share of Asian residents.
Buoyed likely by the presence of mayoral candidate Andrew Yang, a record number of Asians also turned out to vote in last summer’s mayoral primary. According to an analysis by John Mollenkopf, the director of the Graduate Center for Urban Research at CUNY, the turnout rate among Chinese voters rose to 32% in the mayoral Democratic primary compared to 18% in the Democratic presidential primary the previous year.
Despite going up against Yang, Adams never conceded the Asian vote and some in the community appeared divided over the two candidates.
“I would like to believe we were crucial to him winning this election,” Wei said. “And he has publicly made promises to our community that we are waiting to be fulfilled.”
Education as the key priority
Adams has been a visible presence at Lunar New Year events, attending the annual public celebration in Chinatown and making an impromptu appearance at a senior center in Brooklyn. He also recently hosted a Lunar New Year party for the Asian-community press at Gracie Mansion. On Tuesday, he hosted a Lunar New Year breakfast at an undisclosed location that was closed to the press.
Although concerns around public safety have heightened during the pandemic, Liu and others say Adams needs to also show his commitment on education, which has been the overriding priority for Asians.
“This mayor has a very strong foundation in the Asian communities, but the house needs to get built,” Liu said. “The first floor of the house necessarily has to be on the education front.”
De Blasio’s unsuccessful effort at diversifying the city’s elite high schools by scrapping the exam — known as the specialized high schools admissions test (SHSAT) — left many Asian families, whose children make up a majority of those schools, embittered.
“I always say that the SHSAT is very much like the bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah for the Asian-American community,” said John Albert, an Indian-American community activist and lobbyist in Queens.
Those sentiments were echoed at the Chinatown event earlier this month, where Colleen Mei, a Brooklyn resident, said she had voted for Adams in part because of his positions on education. During the campaign, he pledged to keep the test and to expand gifted and talented offerings.
“I’m hoping he keeps the SHSAT,” she said.
Other members of the community are holding Adams accountable to other campaign promises. As a candidate, Adams said he was opposed to the scale of a planned 295-foot, 29-story jail in Chinatown that is set to become one of four borough-based detention facilities intended to replace Rikers Island.
But as mayor, he has yet to comment on the plan, which is set to proceed soon with the demolition of an existing building on the site.
Asian communities in Chinatown and Flushing have also been among those who have vigorously opposed the city’s plan to build more homeless shelters.
Pressed with questions about when he plans to address the various problems engulfing the city, the new mayor has at times reminded reporters that he is still new to the job.
Assemblymember Niou, however, expressed little sympathy.
“I would just say that, well, you still have, three years, 10 months on the job,” she said. “So I hope that we will see more of you then.”