On February 12, CB7 Chair Eugene Kelty sent a letter to the MinKwon Center’s president, Yu Soung Mun, accusing community organizer Charlie Cheon of calling longtime board member Arlene Fleischman a “white b--ch” without provocation at the end of the meeting.
Cheon spoke against the waterfront rezoning during the public participation portion of the hearing.
“According to your website, Charlie Cheon works with senior citizens on a day-to-day basis, but obviously he has no respect for ALL seniors,” Kelty wrote. “We do not tolerate any racism in our community, and we demand an immediate and public apology from Charlie Cheon and from you and your MinKwon Board of Directors.”
Kelty then requested that the Flushing group “immediately terminate” Cheon.
“We expect more of MinKwon as a true ‘community’ organization that rejects all forms of racism and bigotry in Flushing and throughout the Borough of Queens,” Kelty concluded in his letter, which was also forwarded to local elected officials and the Department of City Planning.
In response, John Park, executive director of the MinKwon Center, said in a statement that Cheon, who works directly with local Flushing residents and is a respected community leader, “categorically denies” the accusation.
“Presuming guilt before innocence, demanding immediate significant consequences, and making public a serious accusation against a person’s character without first providing unassailable evidence beyond one person’s word over another is hasty and out of order,” Park said.
MinKwon is currently investigating the claim by talking with potential witnesses who attended the meeting, Park added. They are also reviewing all video footage captured from multiple attendees and shared on social media.
Park noted that the event was standing-room only. Over 100 residents and organizations, including 32BJ, Guardians of Flushing Bay and the Flushing Equitable Development and Urban Planning (FED-UP) coalition, which includes the MinKwon Center, attended, many of whom testified against the rezoning.
Though they have found no evidence that Cheon made the alleged racist remark, Park said their organization does have evidence that Kelty “lunged toward a MinKwon staff member,” making physical contact in what appeared to be an attempt to grab her phone.
Kelty then continued to walk toward her even as other people in that immediate area put their arms out to block his progress, he said.
Park also said in the statement that Kelty told a community member at the public hearing that the developers had to go through their presentations, despite already giving the same presentation at two previous meetings.
He pointed out that at least two people on CB7, including vice chair Chuck Apelian, are paid consultants for the developers.
“Although Mr. Apelian did not participate in the final vote, he should not have been allowed to lobby other Community Board 7 members to vote in favor of the development,” Park said.
Finally, Park said, on more than one occasion when a public hearing was scheduled on the waterfront district, community members who showed up to testify were told that there would be no public hearing that day.
The MinKwon Center’s executive director asked anyone who has additional evidence regarding the accusation against Cheon to be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We are doing our due diligence to investigate the claim, and will continue to assume Charlie Cheon’s innocence,” Park said, “and will take no action against him on this matter until we discover or are provided evidence that proves contrary.”