Thursday, July 23, 2009

Koreans in Flushing Call John Choe a "Communist Sympathizer"

"County Action, North Korean Politics and Ethnic Clashes Define Race For Liu Seat"
by Chris Bragg
From: City Hall, June 22nd, 2009

When John Choe entered the Council race to replace Council Member John Liu (D-Queens) a few weeks ago, there were two immediate opposite reactions.

The Queens Democratic Party jumped at the chance to endorse Liu’s longtime chief of staff, even though Choe had declared his candidacy only a day before the county’s endorsement meeting.

At the same time, a faction of the Korean-American population in the Flushing district strongly denounced him, even though Choe appears to have a good shot at becoming the first Korean-American elected to the Council.

The county support for Choe is easy to explain: he has the backing of the popular Liu, and Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens/Bronx), the Queens County chair. Similarly, Choe said that the promise of county support was one of the main factors in his decision to finally go public with his candidacy.

The big controversy, though, is not over this political maneuvering, but over a foreign policy issue half a world away.

In 1999, Choe founded a group called Nodutdol, whose stated aim is the reunification of North and South Korea. Some in Flushing, however, have labeled Choe a Communist sympathizer, since the group has arranged numerous trips to North Korea for members, and because the group’s website has featured glowing accounts of North Korea and its communist dictator.

In a district where the Falun Gong has for years protested Liu at every turn for what they believe are the councilman’s own alleged Communist leanings, Choe said similar forces are now marshalling support against him among Korean-Americans.

John Hong, of the Korean American Association of Flushing, said Koreans are likely to instead support S.J. Jung, a community organizer, who has also received the backing of the Working Families Party and 32 BJ.

Hong said he did not know what to think about Choe.“I have heard the rumors about North Korea,” Hong said. “I don’t know if they are true. But I have heard them.”

Choe, however dismissed the whole controversy as irrelevant to his candidacy.

“I’m not running for secretary of state—I’m running to represent the 20th district in the City Council,” Choe said.

Some outsiders are also getting involved. Former Council Member Julia Harrison, who is white and preceded Liu on the Council, has been strongly expressing her concerns about Choe’s candidacy.

“I am very concerned about the perception in the community that the North Korean government has a spokesperson,” said Harrison.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

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