Our Member of the Week: Grace Meng

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From the low rise brick homes beyond the clot of shops, dive bars and pizza hang-outs crowding New York’s Jamaica avenue in Flushing Queens, voters from the borough’s multi-ethnic 6th Congressional District elected freshman Democratic Congresswoman Grace Meng, the city’s first Asian-American representative in the Congress.

A political scion, Meng formerly represented the interests of the 22nd legislative district in the NYS Assembly; a seat once occupied by her father, Jimmy Meng. Mr. Meng burst the racial and political sound barrier in 2004, becoming the state’s first Asian-American member in the legislature. Disgraced by scandal, Meng declined a second run, and bowed out of contention in 2006 after serving only one term. As his former campaign manager and looking to inherit her father’s seat, Grace Meng was forced out of the race when her residency was challenged by its winner, Ellen Young. Meng recaptured the seat, defeating Young in 2008, and served two terms before mounting her bid for the Congress; her father pleaded guilty to charges of bribery in the fall of 2012, a week after his daughter’s crowning political triumph.

Despite ethics probes and campaign funding irregularities of his own, the 6th’s unflappable Congressman Gregory Meeks was a stalwart in the NY6 to the tune of seven terms. But after redistricting, demographics shifted, and leaving the seat open for a Meng run, he jettisoned it for the 5th after Democratic icon Gary Ackerman announced his retirement; a political veteran, Ackerman controlled the seat since the Reagan Administration. Redrawn to favor Asian-Americans, and with over half of the district speaking a language other than English, the one common denominator in the ethnically diverse NY6 is that it staunchly votes Democratic. A highly competitive four way race, Meng clinched the primary, nabbing a key 11th hour endorsement by New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. And like Meeks, Meng cruised to victory in the general, putting the boots to her Republican challenger, Councilman Dan Halloran in a 36 point upset.

Our Member of the Week: Grace Meng

During her tenure in the state assembly, Meng, along with then NY Governor David Patterson, also a Democrat, passed legislation striking the word, “Oriental,” from all state documents referencing New Yorkers of Asian descent. According to the 2010 Census, Meng’s home district in Flushing now outnumbers the Chinese population in Manhattan’s China Town. Before Meng, the assembly seat in NY22 had a high turnover rate; an inveterate Democratic constituency, the NY22 paved the way for high profile Chinese backed candidates, who fought fiercely contested races for supremacy while a vigorous electorate washed out its incumbents every two years.

Called the, “Fruit Basket Bribery,” Meng’s father was arrested in the Summer of 2012 for accepting a fruit basket stuffed with $80,000 in bribe money. Meng was purportedly peddling influence, and was caught hot handed with the trunk full of goodies when a confidential witness working undercover for the Feds tempted him with the prize as part of an ongoing federal sting operation. The arrest cast a long shadow over his daughter’s race, one which she would ultimately emerge from victoriously. With a prison sentence looming over her 69 year-old father’s head however, the win was bitter-sweet. Meng is 37 year’s old and is married to Wayne Kye. They have two sons.

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