Sunset Park

Yungman Lee mounts primary challenge to Velazquez

December 2, 2015 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Yungman Lee said he plans to “wake up” large numbers of Asian-Americans who in the past have not voted. Photo courtesy of Yungman Lee For Congress

Yungman Lee, a lawyer and banker, announced on Dec. 2 that he will run against longtime U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez in the Democratic Primary in June, and predicted that he will topple the 12-term incumbent.

Lee, 63, president and CEO of Global Bank on East Broadway in Manhattan, is making his first foray into politics. He plans to run against Velazquez in the Seventh Congressional District, a district that includes neighborhoods in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, and takes in both the Brooklyn and Manhattan Chinatowns.

The Brooklyn neighborhoods in the congressional district include all or parts of Sunset Park, Red Hook, Bushwick, Vinegar Hill, Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, Gowanus, Park Slope, Greenwood, DUMBO and Cobble Hill.

The primary will take place on June 28.

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Velazquez first won the congressional seat in 1992.

Lee said he will be successful because he will reach out to the large numbers of Asian-Americans who live in the congressional district and convince them to vote for one of their own.

In an exclusive interview with the Brooklyn Eagle on Dec. 1, Lee said that in the past, Asian-Americans have not made their presence felt in the voting booth, but he thinks that will change with his candidacy.

“Our voting rate is very low. One of our challenges is to wake up the majority,” he told the Eagle. “When they see one of their own running, they will turn out.”

But Lee said he also plans to reach out to voters of all nationalities.

“The Seventh Congressional District, unique in New York City because it includes three of our five wonderful boroughs, is deeply diverse and deserves better representation than it’s been getting,” Lee said in his campaign announcement.

Lee came to America from Hong Kong when he was 16 years old. He attended Columbia University, where he was active in the anti-Vietnam War movement and took part in civil rights marches on campus. He went on to attend New York University Law School.

Following law school, Lee spent three years working at the law firm Shearman & Sterling before leaving to establish a Chinatown law practice with two colleagues. His law firm, Lee Lee & Ling, was open from 1985 to 1991.

During that time, Lee was also a civic leader in Manhattan’s Chinatown, working at a community food co-op and at the Chinatown Health Clinic. He served as the clinic’s program director for three years and was eventually named chairman of the board of directors.

In 1991, Lee was appointed by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo to serve as deputy superintendent of the New York state Banking Department, a position he held until 1994. His tenure with the Banking Department focused on protecting consumers and taxpayer dollars during the banking industry’s restructuring following the nationwide savings and loan crisis.

Lee said he has the kind of experience it takes to be a member of Congress. “I led a community health clinic, practiced law at large established firms and started a successful community law practice. I’ve turned around troubled banks and regulated financial institutions in crisis. I choose to be a community banker to make positive contributions to area families and businesses. Now, I’m choosing a new path of public service for our communities,” he said.

His congressional campaign, called Yungman Lee for Congress, has registered with the Federal Election Commission, and has a fundraising gala scheduled for Dec. 9.

“Over the next many months, I’ll detail my vision and qualifications, and the incumbent’s shortcomings,” Lee said.

Michael Tobman, communications director for Yungman Lee for Congress, said New York City’s large Asian-American community will be closely watching the primary contest.

“We expect that the entire political establishment in Washington D.C., Albany and City Hall will endorse the 23-year incumbent — it’s what happens. But everyone who does so should remember that the entirety of New York’s Asian-American communities will be carefully following this race,” Tobman said.

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