The Great Backlash to Come
What happens if Democrats block a duly elected Asian Republican
The red wave—not a red wave, a red ripple!—crashed on a select few shores during the midterms. One, of course, was New York, and much of the froth was reserved for the suburbs. But plenty of it came for the five boroughs, especially chunks of Brooklyn and Queens. There were the usual Republican voters, the vanishing white ethnics and the ascendant Orthodox Jews, and the newer cohort of Asian Americans, many of them first and second-generation. They were drawn to the Republican Party for a variety of reasons, from the law-and-order rhetoric to concerns about public and private education. At the top of the ticket was Lee Zeldin, the candidate for governor who won 47 percent of the vote, and below him were the many House candidates who stormed to victory and the legislative candidates who rode their coattails.
In Brooklyn, Peter Abbate, a Democrat who has held his Sunset Park and Dyker Heights Assembly seat since 1987, was defeated. Abbate himself had come to power ousting a Republican. Political life, it seemed, came full circle. The man who beat him was Lester Chang, an Asian American Republican who didn’t even claim a residence in the district. He had run twice before in Manhattan, both times unsuccessfully. Chang, according to allies, put in a real effort to defeat Abbate, despite being badly outspent, but the real reason he won was the sheer number of people in the district, Asian and white alike, voting for Zeldin for governor. Chang took 52% of the vote. Zeldin, meanwhile, trounced Hochul, winning almost 62% in the outer borough seat. Abbate, an Italian American legislator, had long represented an area growing heavily Chinese, and it was always thought that, at some point, a member of that community would replace him. (The district is majority Asian.) This came to pass. It just happened Abbate’s successor was not a Democrat.
Chang, a Navy veteran, said he lived in his mother’s house in Midwood, a neighborhood several miles beyond the district. He claimed this even as he voted in Manhattan in November 2021. Had Abbate or the Brooklyn Democratic Party managed to challenge Chang’s residency during the petitioning process, they could have driven him from the ballot. But they were too inattentive, too lazy, which is what happens when political machines atrophy. Chang sailed through, won the race, and Abbate—a long-serving if forgettable lawmaker—was driven into retirement.
Except the State Assembly may not seat Chang at all.