By Chris Fuchs
Voters appear to have given the New York State Senate its first two Asian-American lawmakers Tuesday — one of whom would be the first Indian American to ever serve in either house of the state legislature.
John Liu, a Democrat and New York City’s first Asian-American city councilman, apparently defeated Republican candidate Vickie Paladino, conservative candidate Simon H. Minching, as well as incumbent Tony Avella, who lost the Democratic primary to Liu in September, according to unofficial results.
Avella, whose state Senate district encompasses neighborhoods in the New York City borough of Queens, still ran in the general election, though not as a Democrat.
Meanwhile, unofficial results out on Long Island showed that attorney Kevin Thomas, an immigrant from India, appeared to eke out a victory against Republican incumbent Kemp Hannon, whose district covers parts of Nassau County.
Come January, assuming the results stand, Liu and Thomas will join Democratic assembly members Ron Kim and Yuh-Line Niou as the state legislature’s four Asian-American lawmakers.
Asians make up around 9 percent of the state’s total population, according to census figures.
“The goal was to inject a voice that had been absent prior,” Liu said in a phone interview. “And the goal is also to vigorously represent the needs of this community that I’ve lived in my whole life, and grown up in, and am raising my own family in.”
As of Thursday morning, unofficial results from the New York City Board of Elections had Liu with around 54 percent of the vote, Paladino at 24 percent, Avella at 21 percent and Minching at 1 percent with close to 97 percent of scanners reporting.
The race between Thomas and Hannon was much tighter. Unofficial results from the Nassau County Board Of Elections Thursday reported that Thomas had captured 50.6 percent of the vote and Hannon 49.3 percent.
Just over 1,300 votes separated the two candidates, with 100 percent of precincts reporting, the results showed.
Thomas, an attorney for the consumer protection unit of the New York Legal Assistance Group and appointee to the New York State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, claimed victory and said he was humbled and proud to be elected the first Indian American to the New York State Senate.
“I ran to represent everyone in my district and that is what I intend to do,” Thomas said in a statement through a spokesman. “But I will also be bringing the issues of the Asian-American community to the state legislature along, I’m sure, with senator-elect John Liu.”
Hannon did not respond to an NBC News request for comment.
Liu, a former actuary and immigrant from Taiwan, is regarded as a trailblazer for Asian Americans seeking elected office. His return to public office comes after serving two terms as a city councilman, beginning in 2002, followed by four years as the city’s comptroller.
In 2013, Liu ran unsuccessfully for mayor, losing in the Democratic primary to now Mayor Bill de Blasio. Liu’s defeat came amid a campaign finance scandal in which he was never charged. After leaving citywide office, Liu took up posts at the City University of New York and Columbia University, teaching municipal finance and public policy.
Liu and Avella squared off against each other for State Senate in 2014, with Avella defeating Liu in the Democratic primary. But September brought with it a reversal of fortune, this time Liu besting Avella.
A state senator since 2011, Avella still made a bid in the general election under the Independence and Women’s Equality parties, though that wasn’t enough to pull off a victory against Liu.
Some, including progressives, had criticized Avella for being a member of the former Independent Democratic Conference, a small group that broke with their party to support Republican control of the state Senate.
With Democrats poised to take control of both the state Senate and Assembly, Liu said fair funding for all public schools and passing the Reproductive Health Act are among his top legislative priorities.
“I’m honored to be the voters’ choice,” Liu said. “The message it sends is that people want change and people favor the Democratic platform with an eye towards a more progressive government in New York State, in view of what’s happening in this country.”
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Anita Hill says she’d be open to voting for Joe Biden
Anita Hill said she considers Joe Biden partly responsible for how she was treated during Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings in 1991 — but she’s still open to voting for him for president.
In a wide-ranging interview with NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell, Hill said she’s more interested in the former vice president’s plans for the future than his apologies for the past.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of what he could say,” Hill said. “For me it’s a matter of what we want all of our leaders to say; that is, after almost three decades now of having discovered the problem of sexual harassment, more people understanding it is a serious problem and so prevalent. I really want our leaders to stand up and say what happened in 1991 will never happen again.”
Hill said she wants leaders to “stand up and say that ‘I understand this is a serious problem, that women are not safe in the workplace, they’re not safe in our schools, they’re not safe on our streets.'” She added that she wants leaders to “use the government’s resources to eliminate the problems.”
Hill had worked for Thomas at two federal agencies, and she testified at his Supreme Court confirmation hearing that he’d sexually harassed her, which Thomas denied. She was grilled by Republicans in the Judiciary Committee, which was chaired by Biden.
The then-Delaware senator opted not to call witnesses who could have corroborated Hill’s story, creating what she called a “he said, she said” situation.
Before Biden announced his bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, he called Hill to express his regret over how she was treated. She told The New York Times earlier this year that she was not satisfied by the apology, but she told Mitchell she didn’t consider Biden’s handling of the hearings “disqualifying.”
“I don’t think it has disqualified him,” Hill, a law professor at Brandeis University, said. “He’s perfectly capable of running for president. I think we will have to make our decisions about what we want our leaders to be doing in the future around these issues of gender violence.”
Hill said she does hold Biden responsible for how the hearings were handled because “I believe every chairman of any committee really is responsible for how a hearing is conducted.”
Asked if there was any “moral equivalency” between Biden and President Donald Trump, who’s denied allegations that he sexually assaulted more than a dozen women over the years, Hill said: “Absolutely not. I never said that and never intended to say that.”
When asked if she could conceive of voting for Biden if he is the Democratic nominee in 2020, Hill said, “Of course I could.”
Hill would not pick out a favorite from the current 2020 field.
“I would love to see a question about gender violence during the debates,” she said, adding that she did not appreciate chatter about female candidates being good vice-presidential picks.
“If you present this picture of them as second, then their arguments for being president are taken less seriously,” she said.
Hill also weighed in on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, saying she “absolutely” identified with Christine Blasey Ford, who accused him of sexual assault, which Kavanaugh denied.
“She was in the same situation” with “intense pressure,” Hill said.
Asked if she’d been in contact with Ford, Hill said: “I have. Not much lately, but I have.”
One person she has not been in contact with is Thomas, who accused her of smearing him. Asked if she ever heard from him, Hill said, “No,” and: “I don’t expect to. And I certainly won’t be getting in touch with him.”
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