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Chen, Pai square off in GOP primary

Starting Saturday with early voting and wrapping up on June 27, Flushing will play host to the borough’s only Republican City Council primary as Yu-Ching James Pai and Dany Chen face off for a chance to represent District 20.

Chen, a Flushing activist and devout Christian, said his views were largely guided by his faith. In addition to saying he is “pro-family, pro-life,” he emphasized a commitment to faith and values throughout an interview with the Chronicle.

Pai has made a name for himself in Flushing as an accountant; he also ran against incumbent Councilmember Sandra Ung (D-Flushing) for the seat in 2021.

Pai initially accepted the Chronicle’s interview request this week, but backed out after the Chronicle declined to send questions in advance. Asked multiple times if that was the impetus, a representative from his campaign said Pai was not going to do interviews before the primary. His positions in this article are therefore based on his website.

Both candidates have made public safety a central pillar in their platforms.

Chen spoke at length about the size of the NYPD’s 109th Precinct, which covers District 20. Given its size, he noted response times have become increasingly long. He proposed having a satellite station for the precinct, perhaps in College Point. Asked whether he preferred that to the popular idea of adding an entirely new precinct to the area, Chen said either would be fine.

Both Chen and Pai have floated having civilian patrol units in the area.

Mets owner Steve Cohen’s ambition to build a casino in the Citi Field parking lot has loomed large over this election season, including in the District 20 primary. Asked about that, Chen acknowledged that while many Asian Americans — who make up the majority of the district — are “very keen on gambling,” he felt that the economic benefits of a casino did not outweigh the damage it could do in terms of mental health and gambling addictions. “People get lost in this gambling so quickly,” he said.

Pai voiced similar concerns at a recent candidate forum.

When it comes to education, both candidates have said they support keeping the Specialized High School Admissions Test, which has been controversial in recent years as former Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to nix it in hopes of increasing diversity at top schools.

The Republican primary comes as the area has grown increasingly conservative in recent years. Last November, Republican gubernatorial candidate and former Rep. Lee Zeldin carried Assembly District 40 — which overlaps with CD 20 — by more than 500 votes.

Coupled with the City Council’s strong Democratic leanings, Chen said that was a key motivation for him to run. “There are only six Republicans [on the Council] out of 51 [members] — that is unacceptable,” he told the Chronicle. Referring to the Asian-American community broadly, he said, “Our voice is definitely undermined. We need a balance.”

Even if Chen wins the primary, Pai will still be on the ballot in November, as he is also running on the Conservative Party line.

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