QUEENS — Rep. Grace Meng made history Tuesday, shaking off her Republican challenger and long voting lines to win the 6th Congressional District election and become the first Asian-American to represent New York in Congress.
With 56 percent of precincts reporting, Meng won a convincing number of votes to replace retiring Rep. Gary Ackerman. Meng collected 67 percent of the vote, compared to 31 percent for her opponent, Republican City Councilman Daniel Halloran.
Joined by her husband, Wayne, her sons, and members of the Queens Democratic party, Meng delivered a victory speech that focused heavily on recovery from Hurricane Sandy.
"With the backdrop of so much loss in our neighborhoods and with so many people in need, thank you all for the victory and the trust you've placed in me," Meng told supporters at a victory party at the Sheraton LaGuardia East. We have a lot of work to do on behalf of the people who have suffered from Hurricane Sandy and on behalf of the people of New York and America."
Meng's supporters were overjoyed with the 37-year-old's win. City councilman Mark Weprin raved about Meng, calling her one of the "most unique people he's ever met in politics.
"She has the ability to reach across party lines, across state lines, across ethnic lines to really unite people," Weprin said. "I think we're going to see that in Washington."
Ackerman, who has held the seat for 15 terms, abruptly announced his retirement in March, sending both parties scrambling to select candidates.
Unlike June's primary election, which was marked by low voter turnout, polls were packed Tuesday, as voters came out to cast ballots in the presidential election.
Throngs of voters — from as far away as storm-ravaged areas of Queens and Staten Island — descended on neighborhoods including Flushing and Forest Hills to vote, creating long lines and hour-long waits.
Meng herself waited more than an hour to vote at P.S. 214 in Flushing, as the borough dealt with an election just one week after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the city.
"I've never seen it like this," said Marcia Fefferman, the site manager at P.S. 214. "I think it's some combination of the presidential election and the hurricane."
Meng said her wait in Flushing wasn't her first experience with the long lines at Queens polls.
"With Hurricane Sandy, the lines are just longer because you have displaced voters," Meng said after making an appearance at a senior center in Flushing. "We were in Forest Hills; we saw a lot of voters from The Rockaways and Howard Beach."
There was also confusion in other parts of the borough. In Whitestone, an elderly woman who showed up to vote was nearly turned away until Halloran whipped out his smartphone to prove to poll workers that she was registered.
Halloran, who voted around 8 a.m. at P.S. 184 on 163rd Street at 21st Avenue in Whitestone, said the Board of Elections had "a lot of problems."
"We found her name and her husband's name and her son's name, all there in the book," he said. "They just overlooked it."
But poll workers said that voting process went off largely without serious problems and that the crowds had been consistently strong.
"[Voters] were here before 6 o'clock," said poll manager Astrid Stanescu, the site manager.
Stanescu added that a Staten Island resident showed up to vote, taking advantage of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's emergency order allowing New York City residents to vote anywhere in the state.
After casting his ballot, Halloran said that he didn't expect to challenge the results of the elections. However, he said he would hold the BOE accountable for the issues surrounding the voting process.
"If I don't win and I'm still in the City Council, when the hearings come up with the Board of Elections they're going to have a lot of questions to answer. And not just in my race, but every race in which an issue like this was raised," Halloran said.
"Going forward we cannot continue to disenfranchise voters, which is what almost happened today."