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Rajkumar Stakes Claim on Councilwoman Chin's Chinatown Turf

 Rajkumar Sets Up Shop in Chinatown
Rajkumar Sets Up Shop in Chinatown
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CHINATOWN — City Council candidate Jenifer Rajkumar is staking a claim on incumbent Margaret Chin's Chinatown turf.

Rajkumar, who is challenging Chin in the District 1 Democratic primary, lives on the other side of Lower Manhattan in Battery Park City but said it "felt natural" to open her campaign headquarters last weekend on Pell Street in the heart of Chinatown, where Chin has a strong base.

“We want to help business in Chinatown, and uplift this neighborhood, preserve it as the greatest Chinatown in this country,” Rajkumar, a 30-year-old Democratic district leader, said in an interview Wednesday.

Chin, 58, a former affordable housing activist, won her office four years ago as the widely hailed first Asian American to represent Chinatown, and many residents of the community, including those who do not speak English, praised her responsiveness to their concerns.

But now Rajkumar is trying to make a move on Chin's stronghold, enlisting the backing of some longtime Chinatown residents and activists, including Hunter College Urban Planning Professor Peter Kwong, a spokesman for a group Rajkumar formed called Chinese For Jenifer.

Though Rajkumar wouldn’t say her new Chinatown base was a direct hit on her opponent, she did say that the move into the office, once home to a family-owned barbershop that she said was priced out of the space, was “symbolic.”

"I’m the daughter of immigrants — I understand the concerns of immigrant communities,” said Rajkumar, 30, whose parents came to New York from their native India in the 1970s. “But I think the desire for strong, active leadership, the desire to fight for affordability, transcends all ethnicities, all neighborhoods — we feel very supported here.”

Kwong accused Chin of placing the interests of developers above the community, citing her support of new business improvement districts in Chinatown and SoHo, as well as her support for the controversial expansion of New York University.

“The people of Lower Manhattan need someone to represent them, not outside interests, not developers," Rajkumar said.

Chin countered on Wednesday that the Chinatown and SoHo BIDs had great support in the community and have helped improve the neighborhoods. She also said that before she voted to approve the NYU expansion last July, she worked hard to help scale down the plans. The final deal was more than 20 percent smaller than NYU had originally wanted, with lower building heights and more space for community use.

A Chin campaign spokesman added that any support Rajkumar has received in Chinatown is “fringe support.”

“My concern has always been for the communities, for the people I serve — and I think I have the track record to prove it,"  Chin said. "What has Jenifer done for Chinatown?"

Rajkumar, a young Stanford University-educated civil rights lawyer, doesn't have a long political track record, aside from her post as Democratic district leader, which she won two years ago in a race against a 28-year incumbent.

Despite her lack of experience, Rajkumar, who has raised $78,366 in campaign funds according to recent filings, has gained the endorsement of several prominent Downtown political clubs, including the Downtown Independent Democrats and the Village Independent Democrats.

But Chin, who has raised $136,730 for her campaign, has also won the backing of political clubs, including the Lower Manhattan Democrats, the Lower East Side Democrats and the United Democratic Organization.

Chin has also gained the endorsement of several unions, public officials and community leaders, including Catherine McVay Hughes, the chairwoman of Community Board 1.

The District 1 Democratic primary election will be held Sept. 10.