Koo will face off against Liu’s chief of staff, John Choe. Choe is a good candidate with lots of academic mileage, but Choe is not the story. A city Democrat running for his boss’s job is not really big news. Koo, however, represents a possible shift in political discourse, and not only in New York.
New York City has slipped into being a virtual one-party town. Even with four GOP mayoral victories in a row, no mayor has strengthened this party. The main reason is twofold: changing demographics in the city and a poor performance in recent years on the national scene.
The party has more black voters than at any time since the election of Rutherford B. Hayes, when the GOP sold out its civil rights efforts in order to appease the Democratic Party by yanking federal troops from the South that were enforcing Reconstruction.
But add FDR’s policies for the less advantaged and President Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act, and the Republican Party never really won back the people it once went to war (literally) for. It’s a long road to win back that kind of trust.
Tom Ognibene is running for his old City Council seat in the 30th District, now occupied by Liz Crowley.
“I go to African-American communities and I talk about school choice and conservative issues, and people agree with these positions,” Ognibene says.
He’s right, African-Americans do agree with a lot of conservative stances, but getting people to change their voting habits is very difficult, especially today when voters tend to see their party affiliation as part of their identity.
Asian-Americans make up slightly less than 5 percent of our national population. But they are a visible population and their values of self-sufficiency, independence, and hard work are not incompatible with what conservatives believe.
“Asians have a strong entrepreneurial spirit, and that works with Republican values,” explains Koo.
Peter Koo lost his State Senate bid a year ago in what was one of the worst Republican years in history. Now Koo, a pharmacist and businessman, wants to represent this Flushing district in the City Council.
There is no stain of Republican foreign policy missteps or Wall Street connections here. He is a citizen candidate that believes in the basic tenets that his party stood for before it got sucked into the black hole of desperation three years ago. He faces a strong opponent in Choe, who has studied public policy as an academic and has paid his dues in his community.
But Peter Koo, not unlike former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Congressman Joe Cao, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, can easily be the future of the Republican Party. Of course many Asian-Americans are Democrats, but who isn’t nowadays?
“People ask me why I do not become a Democrat, but I love my party,” says Koo. “I stand on my principles. I cannot change just to have a better chance of winning.”
The national Republican Party needs to see that these successful candidates at the local level, like Koo, get the support they need to at least mount viable campaigns. No communities are expendable, nor should they be written off, but the Republican Party needs to stay visible and active in this community if it wants to exist in the next century.
“The Republican Party cannot be too rigid, and needs to be more proactive in these communities,” adds Koo.
When a political party gets its clock cleaned the way the Republican Party has in recent election cycles, it means that there is an opportunity for renewal. It is time for this party to start a listening tour of its own in order to be a more credible voice and a real alternative in the policy arena.