November 24, 2008

Councilman Expounds on Election’s Significance

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John Liu, New York City Councilman (D-Queens), spoke in Rockefeller Hall on Saturday, warming another frigid Ithacan afternoon with hopeful talk of a new era in American politics.
The first Asian American legislator in the history of New York State, Liu currently chairs the New York City Council’s Transportation Committee, one of its most influential bodies. The committee oversees the city’s mass transportation agencies and facilities.
Liu discussed the 2008 elections in terms of voter mobilization, race and international impact. He emphasized the historic significance of Barack Obama’s successful campaign for the presidency.
“We’ve made history in 2008 in ways some of us didn’t imagine,” he said. “We have brought about change that will be felt for the next century.”
Tompkins County Legislator Jim Dennis (D) voiced his own opinion on the subject, putting the 2008 elections in historical perspective.
“Forty-five years ago today, JFK, the first president I voted for, was murdered … It’s a significant day for me in that the whole election sent a really important message, especially for people my age, and that message was transformation.”
Liu attributed Barack Obama’s success to a variety of factors, including his charisma.
“I think nobody can get as close to fulfilling peoples’ extreme expectations as Obama,” he said. “Obama appealed to people who had been politically apathetic … because they were disillusioned and separate from the political process.”
One such formerly disillusioned group, Liu noted, was young people, a political “sleeping giant” awakened during the 2008 campaigns.
Liu shared his own election experiences to illustrate the level of political engagement achieved by Obama.
“We set up a phone bank near our office a few days before the voting began,” he said. “The following day, hundreds of people showed up to volunteer.”
Liu also noted that the 2008 elections were historic in terms of the use of facebook, text messaging and other new forms of communication to reach voters, especially young voters. He anticipated that harnessing such technologies would become even more important in subsequent elections.
Liu discussed the racial implications of the 2008 elections, stating simply, “Whatever barriers we might have felt in terms of what positions [minorities] can achieve are gone.”
Liu emphasized the challenges awaiting the nation’s next president.
“We’re going to need to change the image of America abroad,” he said, speculating that Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), the nominee for secretary of state, might play a key role in accomplishing this goal.
Liu stated that the nation’s next president will have to deal with the current economic crisis, which he expected will hit areas like New York City, “so reliant on Wall Street revenue,” with particular force.
Regarding economic globalization, Liu expressed dissatisfaction with the “rhetoric of sending jobs to places like China and India,” stating, “Rather than pointing the finger, we should learn from these countries.”
Finally, Liu spoke about political issues at the city level as well as his own future ambitions.
He voiced special interest in education reform, believing that current system for control of public schools in New York City, which he identified as a “mayoral autocracy,” was ineffective in some ways.
Liu spoke against having such a strong focus on standardized testing, arguing that awarding teachers or principals bonuses based on the performance of their students does not lead to better education.
He identified the overcrowding of some of the city’s best public schools as another problem that needs to be addressed.
Finally, in terms of his own political future, Liu announced that he will be running for the position of public advocate, a position on the New York City Council with citywide powers.
Christina Kam ’11 found Liu’s comments inspiring.
“Councilman Liu’s enthusiasm for what he calls ‘a new era in American politics’ is contagious,” she said, “I definitely noticed more political participation among young people on campus during this year’s elections and I hope that it stays that way in the future.”
The talk was sponsored by the Ithaca Asian American Association, the Cornell Asian American Studies Program, the Cornell Public Service Center and the Cornell chapters of Kappa Phi Lambda and Alpha Kappa Delta Phi sororities.