Choe, executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, was flanked by a group of supporters that represented the diverse population of Flushing.
Among his backers were Chief Little Fox of the Mintecock Nation, Maureen Regan, president of the Queensboro Hill Civic Association, Youngsoo Choi of the Korean American Alliance of Cancel Rent and Tax Relief, and leaders of the nonprofit group Victory United.
Choe said he intentionally assembled a diverse group of supporters for the announcement. He said anyone running to represent the area should have relationships with the different parts of the community, understand their needs and lift up their voices.
“My campaign is grounded as a grassroots campaign, representing African-Americans, Latinos, South Asians, Asian-Americans of all incomes, backgrounds and ages,” he said. “I will make sure that our campaign reaches out to the entire community, speaks to all of the community here and actually engages people to come out and participate in politics.”
Choe previously ran for City Council in 2009, losing to eventual Democratic nominee Yen Chou in a five-way primary by a few hundred votes. Chou eventually lost in the general election to current Councilman Peter Koo in another close race.
At the time, Choe served as the chief of staff for then-Councilman John Liu, who later became the city’s comptroller. Choe worked as policy director for the comptroller after the race.
In the decade between his two bids for City Council, Choe said Flushing has become more diverse, but also more susceptible to the pressures of living and doing business in the city, like high rents, overcrowded classrooms and overdevelopment.
“These are issues of inequality and injustice that people have brought to my attention,” he said, “that I have learned through working and helping the community.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed those inequalities, Choe said, leading to the deaths of 24,000 New Yorkers, shuttering of small busineses, skyrocketing unemployment rate and rise in food insecurity.
Rather than alleviating the suffering, Choe blasted Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration for “railroading” through the proposed Special Flushing Waterfront District, a plan to develop 1,725 units of housing, hotels, retail, office space, open space, a public road network and other amenities on a 29-acre site along the Flushing Creek.
The proposed waterfront district is currently awaiting approval in the City Council. Community Board 7, of which Choe is a member, okayed the proposal, though Choe voted against the project. He has been a vocal critic of the project.
“I know many of you feel the same way I do,” Choe said at his announcement, “angry at the lack of government leadership, upset at the mind-boggling incompetence at every level of our government, embarrassed that our government cannot do better than Taiwan, Vietnam, Korea and other countries that were able to contain the virus and restore public safety.”
As an elected official, Choe said he will fight to ensure that housing, food security, high-quality education, internet access and access to health care are all rights.
“As someone who has experienced firsthand with the issues that District 20 faces, I know the time is long past due for real solutions,” he said. “I will fight in the City Council to deliver them.”
Choe said he plans to hold government officials accountable, from the mayor all the way down to community board appointees. Choe has frequently clashed with the longtime leadership of Community Board 7, which he said doesn’t represent the diversity and changing population of the district.
He said the board has not done enough to help the community, from failing to organize mutual aid efforts to holding virtual hearings that are “totally divorced from the needs of our community.”
“One of the first things I will do as council member is clean house,” he said, “and make sure that we have a community board that truly represents our community, that understands our needs and is actually going to take action to address issues here.
“Enough with people being in office and holding positions of power for their own ego,” Choe added. “That’s not going to happen when I’m elected here.”
The race for District 20, which encompasses Flushing and parts of northeast Queens, has four candidates so far, including Choe, Sandra Ung, an attorney and aide to Congresswoman Grace Meng, Neng Wang, former director of CPC’s Nan Shan Senior Center, and Hailing Chen, an Uber driver.
According to the latest campaign finance filings, Ung holds a large lead in fundraising at more than $40,000.
The 2021 race will also be the first citywide election that will feature ranked-choice voting, a new system where voters rank their top-five choices rather than choosing one candidate.
Choe said his young, bilingual campaign team is going to educate voters about ranked-choice voting, as well as top issues in the race. He plans to have meetings and online forums to better inform voters.
The candidate said he expects to benefit from ranked-choice voting, and that his strategy will not fundamentally change despite the new voting system.
“I will be running a very positive campaign, a campaign about the issues,” Choe said. “I’m going to represent a broad swath of this community.”