Even though she is raising two daughters with her Queens Democrat spouse, Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing), Alison Tan does not feel especially close to the borough party machine.
The Community Board 7 member is challenging Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) in a primary race. And when she wanted to show the Queens County Democratic Party her agenda and platform, Tan says, it wouldn’t even give her the time of day.
“When I approached them, I wanted to ... let them know why I was running and the ideas and the principles that I stood for,” she said in a sitdown interview with the Chronicle’s editorial board. “But they didn’t want to meet with me.”
Tan, who has never run for office before, found the iciness “uninspiring and undemocratic.” Although the candidate says she “feel[s] like an outsider,” Tan contends that many people understand the dynamics at play.
“They’re aware of the politics; there’s a lot of power that preserves and seeks to protect incumbency,” the Flushing resident explained. “Whether it’s been effective or not effective.”
Queens politics has been dominated by families — two or more Weprins, Mengs, Hevesis, Crowleys, Addabbos and Vallones have all been in office — but a husband-and-wife team would be a new kind of dynasty. Were the challenger elected, she and her husband would become this borough’s version of Kings County power couple Councilwoman Inez Barron (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblyman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn).
Tan contends her financial sector experience — the hopeful has stepped down from her role as managing director at real estate advisory firm Ackman Ziff to campaign full-time — would help her deliver for Council District 20. Real estate pro formas, which are analyses of financial return from development projects, have been a big part of her work, which she said has involved national and international developments but never any in Queens. Tan believes her shrewd grasp of the business’ financial factors could translate to better building for Flushing stakeholders.
“A lot of times when developers come to the table and they want to develop denser, higher, and in return they don’t want to develop more affordable housing, they don’t want to provide more services. The overarching argument that they utilize in that case is that the project is not feasible as a result of these requirements,” the candidate said. “I can rely on my own ability to analyze that data as opposed to outside consultants who are actually hired by the developers themselves.”
The Democratic challenger also believes that her real estate business savvy would lend itself well to a chairwomanship on the Council’s Land Use Committee.
Noting a growing chasm between the poorest and richest in the Flushing area, Tan says that “we should hold” builders of luxury housing units to create more affordable ones. She added that a major issue is that some who live in the neighborhood’s most upscale condos buy them as foreign investors and do not always live there and rent them out: In effect, there is a growing group of “transient renters” indifferent to the quality of area schools and other community issues that matter to regular residents.
Among the latter is Tan, who is raising two young daughters in the district with her parents retiring there. More than the Assembly where her husband legislates, she said, the City Council is the most effective body for addressing quality-of-life issues.
And she says that during the two terms that Koo has been in office, the “quality-of-life has just vastly deteriorated.” Specifically, overdevelopment during the period has placed a burden on area infrastructure and Downtown Flushing increasingly lacks adequate sanitation.
“I think that we have to hold city agencies accountable for the frequency of trash pickup, and also business improvement districts accountable for what they set out to do,” she said.
The health impact of the highly polluted Flushing bay and creek water is also a concern to Tan. According to the candidate, far more than chlorination is needed to improve them.
“I think we have to invest more in green infrastructure,” she said. “We have to have wastewater treatment plants and more of them ... there is not enough capacity in the current wastewater treatment plants to treat all the sewage.”
For addressing the transportation needs of Flushing, Tan says that increasing the frequency of express buses would benefit the community.
According to the candidate, the New York City government should have a greater say in how capital dollars are spent on the transportation system.
“It’s the people who reside in the city and the electeds who represent them that know best where capital improvement is necessary,” she said.
Overcrowding is endemic for students in School District 25, the high-performing set of schools that includes Flushing. Tan pointed out that ameliorating the issue requires a balance of priorities.
“There are no clear solutions,” she said. “But I think that once I am in the City Council and I’m able to look at the issue from a perspective of comparing the needs for schools and the need to curb the increase in development, that I would be able be able to put forth thoughtful ideas on how we could alleviate the congestion.”
The candidate recently attacked Koo for allocating thousands of dollars in City Council funds to anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center Bridge to Life. The incumbent has denied being anti-choice and has highlighted the myriad services for mothers Bridge to Life provides unrelated to its anti-choice stance. To the primary challenger, the funding is inconsistent with progressive values.
“I do think that for people who believe in Democratic principles, we believe in equal rights and equal opportunities ... for people at every level of government, there is an opportunity to champion that voice,” Tan said.
To fight the problem of human trafficking in Flushing, Tan says that, “We have to push harder for inspections of massage parlors, which is where a lot of the trafficking occurs and is actually the face and the cover of a lot of these operations.”