Only in office for three and a half months, Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) is learning the ropes in Albany, juggling home life with a 16-month-old and expecting another baby in September.
“The pregnancy wasn’t planned, but it has worked out well since we are basically not in Albany from July to December,” Meng said.
The baby will be three months old when the state Legislature reconvenes in January and the assemblywoman expects to take the new arrival with her to Albany for a few months.
Meng, 33, is the third Asian-American to hold the 22nd District Assembly seat. She beat incumbent Ellen Young in the primary. Before that, the seat was occupied for one term by Meng’s father, Jimmy Meng, who retired due to ill health.
“The hardest part of the job is getting funding for my district and passing legislation,” she said. “Handling constituent complaints has also increased because of the economy. We hear from 35 to 40 people a day with problems.”
Her background as a lawyer, running her father’s district office and later organizing a volunteer group to assist the poor and elderly in Flushing have served her well, she believes. “We try to help people in any way. We want them to be happy, and having worked with nonprofit groups and agencies before helps,” Meng said.
She pointed out, for example, that CUNY Law School in Flushing helps seniors with wills and making up health care proxies. That is one free resource she will refer to seniors in need.
Her introduction to Albany revolved around a contentious state budget and Meng was focused on getting as much money for her district as possible. “I got $155,000 in discretionary funds for the district,” Meng said. “I was happy with it. These are tough economic times and it hurts nonprofits like senior centers as well as working parents, which we are trying to fund.”
She is grateful for promised federal stimulus funds that are expected to be used in Flushing for sidewalk repair and making the Long Island Rail Road station more user-friendly.
As a freshman legislator, Meng participated in an orientation, but said she felt “thrown into a pool,” even though her colleagues such as Mark Weprin (D-Douglaston) and Jose Peralta (D-Corona) were a big help.
“You have to take the initiative to find things out,” Meng added, noting that she has the most number of bills proposed of the six freshmen legislators in Albany. Her bills include preventing people from smoking in cars with children under 18 and forcing cosmetics companies to use labels warning teenagers about the dangers of some of the ingredients.
One of the hardest part of the job as a mother is being away from her toddler, Tyler. Meng is in Albany Monday through Wednesday, although during budget talks it’s through Thursday.
“I am lucky to have a strong support system,” she said. “My husband’s aunt lives with us and all our family lives nearby if we need a babysitter.”
Her husband, Dr. Wayne Kye, is a dentist who teaches at NYU. “He is very supportive and his job is flexible enough that sometimes he brings up Tyler for a visit,” Meng said.
At other times, when she misses him, a camera in Tyler’s playroom allows her to see him in action. “Right now, he’s busy trying to pull the dog’s tail,” she said.
She currently takes the train to Albany, a two and a half-hour trip, because it gives her a chance to relax since the pregnancy makes her tired. She usually gets a ride home from one of her colleagues.
Now that she’s into her second trimester, Meng feels good. She stays at a hotel while in Albany, which has a shuttle to the Capitol.
While she’s away, her Flushing staff attends meetings for her and helps keep her in the loop on what’s going on.
Future plans include running again in two years. “I’m really thankful to have this opportunity,” Meng said. “I would like to stay in the seat.”
Meng’s Flushing office is located in the Queens Crossing building at 136-20 38th Ave on the 10th floor, and can be reached at (718) 939-0195.