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CB7 votes overwhelmingly to remove Choe

John Choe is no longer a member of Community Board 7.
Board members voted 39-3 with one abstention on Monday night in favor of removing him from the board over five separate allegations that board leadership said were unethical and, in some cases, violated the City Charter.
“What’s typical and what we are finding here is a defiance, an arrogance,” said board vice chair Chuck Apelian. “Someone who doesn’t want to go with the rules just for the sake of having it his way.”
Choe has been critical of board leadership in the past, especially Apelian, who also chairs the Land Use Committee, for hiring himself out as a consultant to developers with business before the board. Most recently, Apelian recused himself from the full board vote on the Special Flushing Waterfront District because he had worked for the developers behind the project.
Board chair Gene Kelty appointed member Frank Macchio to head a special committee to look into the allegations against Choe and make a recommendation to the board, but at Monday night’s hearing in the basement of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Whitestone, Apelian did most of the talking, outlining for board members why Choe should be removed.
Choe was appointed to a new two-year term by Borough President Donovan Richards earlier this year. Following his appointment, board leadership started the proceedings to have him removed, a highly unusual move for a community board.
The most serious charge against Choe was that he solicited campaign contributions from board members for his City Council run earlier this year. Twenty-three of the 50 board members received the email.
Choe contends that those email addresses were in his 4,000-person contact list because he dealt with them outside of official board business. Indeed, one board member who received the email is Choe’s pastor, another said they had an exchange with him about bike lanes, and another served in a civic association with Choe.
Board leadership filed a complaint with the Conflict of Interests Board (COIB). That letter was rpvided to board members during Monday night’s meeting, but when pressed about a response from COIB, Kelty replied that the board never heard back.
For his part, Choe said that he also reached out to the COIB and did receive a response. He was told the charter provision about soliciting public servants for campaign contributions only applies to people with influence over policy.
“I have not had substantive policy-making decisions on this board,” Choe told board members. “Trust me, I would love to have policy discretion on this board.”
But Apelian noted that community board recommendations to the borough president are made by the local City Council member.
“Ask yourself, ‘gee, what if he won, would he kick me off the board?” he said. “Maybe I should contribute to him.”
Choe, it should be noted, was reappointed to Community Board 7 despite Councilman Peter Koo refusing to give him a recommendation.
Other allegations against Choe are that he had a poor attendance record, that he made a joke about taking a bribe during a hearing, and his criticisms of Apelian amounted to defamation.
But perhaps the charge that resonated most with the board is that Choe created a Community Board 7 Facebook page without the approval of board leadership.
When asked by Kelty if he created the page, Choe initially denied it, but later admitted that he was the administrator. Kelty said they referred the matter to the Department of Investigations (DOI), and when pressed by the board to provide DOI’s response, Kelty said the department told him over the phone that it was illegal for Choe to use the CB7 logo and misrepresent the board.
Kelty and Apelian said Choe used the page to promote the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, of which Choe is the executive director.
“You can not represent the board on behalf of your own opinion,” said Apelian. “If you don’t like what the chair says, you don’t just go ahead and do it anyway.”
Several Choe supporters attended the meeting, which was held far from the downtown Flushing location where the board usually meets and was not broadcast over the Internet, as has been done during the pandemic.
“COVID-isolated individuals” were instead asked to travel to Korean Community Services in Bayside.
Over 100 people signed a petition urging Richards to stop the proceeding and instead investigate Apelian.
Richards has made it a priority during his time in office to diversify the borough’s community boards to more adequately reflect the communities they represent. He said that is why he reappointed Choe to CB7, but acknowledged that the board has the authority to remove him.
“I reappointed John Choe to Community Board 7 because I truly believe our community boards should be diverse, both in identity and thought,” he said in a statement following the vote. “Under the City Charter, however, a community board has the ability to remove a member for cause with a majority vote, and Community Board 7 has decided to exercise this authority.”

When an endorsement isn’t really one

A few weeks back, we wrote about how ranked-choice voting has made campaign-season endorsements a little more complicated. Or maybe it makes them less complicated, depending on which side of the endorsement you fall on.
For the people or groups making the endorsement, they no longer necessarily have to make a tough decision between two candidates they prefer.
With ranked-choice voting, they can pick one candidate as their first choice, but say that if they don’t win, they would be perfectly happy with candidate two, who they would put as their second choice on the ballot.
It’s an easy way out of a making a hard choice.
If you happen to be the first choice, that’s as good as an old-fashioned endorsement regardless of the type of election.
However, if you are the second choice, which is happening more and more often, it’s a little trickier to promote that you were endorsed but also reveal that you weren’t exactly the first choice, that there is another candidate that is preferable to you.
But what do you do if you are one of three candidates endorsed, and the person making the endorsement doesn’t even reveal the order of their choice? Were you even really endorsed at all?
That’s what happened when State Senator John Liu announced that he was endorsing John Choe, Ellen Young and Sandra Ung to replace Peter Koo in the City Council, but he never said who was his first, second and third choice.
“Voters can vote for up to five candidates by ranking their choices one through five, and I urge my fellow District 20 voters to rank these three candidates as their top three choices,” Liu said in a statement.
When he shared his comments about each candidate in a press release announcing the endorsements, he even made sure to state that he was doing so in alphabetical order so as not to imply a preference.
Ranked-choice voting makes it possible for Liu to say that he thinks they are all fine candidates for the post, which is a perfectly fair sentiment to have. However, if voters are only allowed to vote for one candidate as in past elections, endorsing all three wouldn’t make any sense.
The press release announcing the endorsement(s) did say that Liu would reveal his first, second and third choices at a later date.
Again, this makes things tricky for the candidates, who would love to announce they have the support of somebody as well known in the district as Liu, but in reality were only one of three candidates he actually supports.
So they just ignored that little fact.
Both the Choe and Young campaigns sent out press releases along with photos of them alone with Liu announcing the endorsement without mentioning the other two candidates.
Ung went a different route and doesn’t even mention it a list of other endorsements on her website. Maybe she waiting to see if she is Liu’s first choice.
We’re not sure how the Board of Elections is going to handle the logistics of ranked-choice voting to ensure timely election results, but we love the new layers of strategy it is bringing to this year’s primary.

Why endorse one when you can back two?

A few weeks back, we wrote that endorsements would be hot commodities this election cycle with so many candidates running in local and citywide races.
After all, there would only be so many major endorsements to go around – such as those from labor unions and prominent elected officials and community leaders – before candidates would have to start scraping the bottom of the barrel (no offense intended!) to prove they have a broad base of support and deserve your vote.
But we forgot about ranked-choice voting, which this year will allow voters to list their top five favorite candidates in order of preference
That means if you are a candidate, just because you weren’t the first choice of say the UFT or PBA, doesn’t mean you can’t court one of those unions to state that if they had to pick a second candidate to back, it would be you.
We wondered how many candidates would swallow their pride and go after those type of endorsements, but as it turns out, the endorsers themselves are ahead of the game.
Two elected officials from northeast Queens recently decided to endorse not one, but two candidates in two different City Council races.
Assemblyman Ron Kim announced that he would be co-endorsing both Ellen Young and John Choe in the Democratic Primary for the City Council seat being vacated by Councilman Peter Koo at the end of the year.
In a statement announcing the “first-of-its-kind” endorsement, Kim said he believed both would be “worthy elected leaders for the community.”
Of course, Young was eager to publicize that Kim had endorsed her, so she sent out her own press release touting his support. Naturally, there was no mention of the fact that Kim also endorsed one of her opponents in the race.
About a week later, State Senator John Liu announced he was endorsing two candidates in the Democratic Primary to replace Councilman Barry Grodenchik. But unlike Kim who co-endorsed two candidates, Liu actually stated his preference.
He announced that Linda Lee was his first-choice candidate, followed by Jaslin Kaur at number two. Liu said Lee would “be a most thoughtful and effective member of the City Council,” but also said Kaur would “lead District 23 towards guaranteeing dignity for all.”
We’re so confused!
Lee also sent out a press release announcing the endorsement, which makes sense because she was the top choice. But Kaur seems perfectly content to be a close second in Liu’s eyes. She posted news of the endorsement on her website and social media channels, making it very clear that she was indeed Liu’s second choice.
We guess not only does ranked-choice voting mean that candidates can still get the support of a group or person who has already endorsed their opponent, but it also gives an out to the endorsers who don’t have to choose between two people they already have close relationships with.

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