Staffer ousted after urging boycott of Asian businesses over Coronavirus fears

March 5, 2020 Paula Katinas
chinatown

Fear and misinformation about the coronavirus is spreading faster than the virus itself, according to elected officials and Asian-American community leaders in Brooklyn, who said two troubling incidents are raising a great deal of concern.

Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus fired a member of her staff after the worker shared an anti-Asian message on Facebook that urged patrons to avoid Chinese restaurants during the epidemic.

Marilyn Franks, who worked as a receptionist in Frontus’ Coney Island district office, shared a Facebook message that urged people to not eat in Chinese restaurants and to avoid other Chinese businesses.

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“We urge citizens to stay away from Chinese supermarkets, shops, fast food outlets, Restaurant (sic) and Business,” read the Facebook message.

Franks didn’t write the original message, but shared it as part of a chain letter. The post was first reported by the New York Daily News.

“Many of the owners went back to China to celebrate the Chinese New Year celebrations. They are returning and some are bringing along the coronavirus. Rather be safe than sorry,” the message read.

Elected officials and local business owners have reported that panic over the virus is causing people to stay away from Sunset Park and its Asian restaurants and markets, and that businesses in the neighborhood, as well as Asian businesses in Manhattan and Queens, have taken a serious financial hit.

The worldwide coronavirus epidemic began in Wuhan, China.

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Frontus, a Democrat who represents Coney Island and parts of Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge, swiftly canned Franks.

“In recent weeks, a spike in anti-Asian discrimination and harassment across the United States, especially in New York City, has followed news of the coronavirus outbreak. Some have contacted me to share their anger over an ignorant and bigoted comment circulated by a former employee of my office. I condemn the racism, xenophobia and violence that have targeted the Chinese-American community. I share your dismay, and I apologize for the message and the hurt it has caused. That employee has been dismissed,” Frontus said in a statement.

“Any expression of bigotry does not represent me, my values or my record of fighting for racial unity and understanding. The employee no longer works for me, and my entire staff will complete further cultural sensitivity training,” Frontus said.

The Facebook sharing by Franks caused an uproar that also entangled Borough President Eric Adams.

Adams announced that he would not reappoint a Community Board 13 member who had defended Franks and blasted Chinese-Americans in a Facebook comment.

Board 13 member Ronald X. Stewart also charged in his Facebook comment that Chinese-Americans practice discrimination.

“Ms. Frontus should not have to apologize but as a stateswoman she did. These Chinese restaurants in our community made millions of dollars off us. They don’t hire us, don’t donate to any of our events and express racism against us,” he wrote.

Adams, who as borough president has the responsibility of appointing members to Brooklyn’s 18 neighborhood community boards, announced that Stewart’s days on Board 13 are numbered.

I condemn in the strongest possible terms the comments made this week by a community board member. Borough Hall’s counsel advises that the proper course of action is to not reappoint the board member. Therefore, his last day serving on the board will be March 31, 2020,” Adams wrote on Twitter.

“We strongly condemn this language and any attacks that seek to demonize and divide based on our identities. We will always stand with our Asian-American community and ALL of our communities,” Adams added.

Nancy Tong, an Asian-American community leader in Bensonhurst, said she was satisfied with the actions taken by Frontus and Adams.

“It was the right thing to do,” Tong told the Eagle. “Asians have been assaulted on the subways and in other places, just because they’re Asian. What that worker did wasn’t helpful,” she said, referring to Franks.

Tong, who serves as the Democratic Party’s district leader in the 47th Assembly District, said Stewart’s Facebook post is shocking. “As a community board member, he represents the community. If he feels that way, he really shouldn’t be on the board,” she said.


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