A ‘Common Sense’ Republican Is Challenging New York’s Progressive State Senate

Yiatin Chu is campaigning to unseat a longtime Democratic state senator and bolster ‘common sense’ Republicanism in New York State.

Jean Hahn
Republican Yiatin Chu is running for the New York State Senate. Jean Hahn

The Democrat majority in the 63-person New York state senate is facing a fierce challenge from education activist Yiatin Chu, who is staking out her first run for public office to push back against progressive policies and build “the Republican common sense party.”

Ms. Chu is challenging the incumbent state senator, Toby Stavisky, in a bid for District 11 at Northern Queens. Ms. Stavisky, who serves as the chairwoman of New York’s committee on higher education, has defeated many challengers in her 25 years in office, including a young Republican, Stefano Forte, in 2022. 

Yet public sentiment could swing in favor of Ms. Chu in 2024 as the district she’s running to represent and surrounding areas grow redder. The area overlaps with the city council district run by a Republican city councilwoman, Vickie Paladino, who first won in 2021 and comfortably secured another victory in November. 

Not far away, a Republican councilwoman, Inna Vernikov, has secured two successive wins at a Brooklyn district that has been hit hard by the migrant crisis. In November, Councilwoman Kristy Marmorato flipped a district in the northeast Bronx red for the first time in more than 50 years. 

“The platform of a moderate Republican is what a lot of New Yorkers want — they just don’t hear it enough,” Ms. Chu tells the Sun. Though extremists on both sides are the loudest, “the average person is not thinking that the pains in their life are necessarily Democrat or Republican,” she says. “They want someone to solve problems for them that actually understand what’s going on in their local district instead of being consumed by national politics.”

Ms. Chu sees herself not as a politician but as an advocate. Born in Taiwan and raised at Whitestone, Queens, she says she has witnessed how the Asian community, which makes up more than a third of District 11, has suffered as a consequence of the public education system. Last month, she led a lawsuit alleging anti-Asian discrimination in state science programs.

As the co-founder of Parent Leaders for Accelerated Curriculum Education in NYC, Ms. Chu champions a merit-based state education system. She objects to the state’s costly class size mandates and to demands for an elimination of standardized tests for New York City’s specialized high schools.

In recent years, Ms. Chu has witnessed the toll born in the neighborhood by the rise of borough-based jails, the legalization of marijuana, anti-landlord policies, and pro-criminal policies like cashless bail. 

What galvanized Ms. Chu to join this race was the city council’s vote in January to override the mayor’s veto on legislation supporting police transparency, which she says few people in District 11 support, given that burglaries, robberies, and car theft are up 50 to 200 percent there since 2019. “There’s a disconnect between the people that are elected trying to gain political favors, pursue their political ambitions,” she says, “and the people they represent.”

A spokeswoman for Ms. Stavisky, Tess McRae, tells the Sun that the longtime legislator succeeded in “securing record funding for public schools, strengthening common sense gun laws, empowering law enforcement to keep our communities safe, and protecting women’s reproductive rights. She is happy to contrast that record achievement against any achievement of any extremist Republican.”

Yet Ms. Chu would not call her views “extremist.” She says she hopes to be “a voice of sanity” in the New York state legislature. She is concerned about congestion pricing, for one, as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to boost tolls to up to 36 dollars for drivers entering Manhattan. Ms. Chu says it’s a “quality of life issue.”

Ms. Chu also supports policies that would mitigate the “endless” issues in New York stemming from illegal immigration at the nation’s southern border. The situation has been made worse, she says, by the conversion of soccer fields and playgrounds into local shelters and the diversion of state resources to the nearly 200,000 migrants that have entered the city since last spring. “The more you provide,” she says, “the more they’re going to want to come.”

Yet New York’s progressive electorate is fighting Mayor Adams’ efforts to pull back on immigration. Ms. Stavisky has proposed that would preclude the city and state university system from asking students about their immigration status. “I need to be in Albany,” Ms. Chu says, “to prioritize our tax paying citizens here.”

Correction: The Bronx is where the district was flipped red for the first time in more than 50 years. The borough was misstated in an earlier version.

The New York Sun

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