New York Congress Members Promise to Push for Immigration Reform

New York Democratic representatives Yvette Clarke, Charles Rangel and Anthony Weiner came out this week in support of comprehensive immigration reform during a Thanksgiving event that also recognized immigrants’ heritage and contributions to the city.

Liu Becomes First Asian Elected to Citywide Office in New York

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska, Polish Daily News and FI2W reporter
Liu and his son Joey during Tuesday's victory party - Photo: Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska.

Liu and his son Joey during Tuesday’s victory party. (Photo: Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska)

[* Editor’s note: This article was amended to correct election results in the last paragraph.]

John C. Liu’s victory in the race for New York City comptroller on Tuesday marks the first time an Asian American has been elected to citywide office.

Ever since Liu won the Democratic nomination in a primary runoff on Sept. 29, excitement had been building in Asian neighborhoods — in Chinatown and Sunset Park, but especially in Flushing, Queens, the neighborhood where Liu lives and which he has represented for the last eight years in the city council. People constantly kept stopping him on the street to congratulate him.

“It takes a long time to walk now,” Liu said with a laugh recently.

Liu’s believes that his victory in the general election over Republican rival Joseph A. Mendola, and over three other Democratic candidates in the primary, was no accident. “We won this election in the streets,” he said, referring to his busy campaign schedule, which often included meeting average New Yorkers. Liu, 42, is also extremely meticulous and proper in his relations with people. He pays attention to the details and always returns phone calls from reporters.

(more…)

Looking for Reelection, Mayor Bloomberg Courts Ethnic Press and Immigrant Voters

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska, Polish Daily News and FI2W reporter
Bloomberg promised to talk more to the citys ethnic media if hes reelected. (Photo: Aleksandra Slabisz)
Bloomberg promised to talk more to the city’s ethnic media if he’s reelected. (Photos: Aleksandra Slabisz)

With less than a month to go before the election that will decide whether he remains in office for a third term, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a plan to support New York’s immigrants, to be implemented if he is reelected.

Standing at the podium with a sign that read “City of Immigrants, Mike Bloomberg NYC” at the CUNY Graduate Center in midtown Manhattan, the mayor reminded a crowd consisting mostly of ethnic media reporters of his previous initiatives for the city’s immigrants and went on to praise their role in the city.

“Immigrants are why New York City became America’s economic engine,” Bloomberg stated. “In these tough times our city needs more immigrants, not fewer.”

(more…)

Feeling Disrespected: Poles React to Obama’s Shift on Missile Defense

When the Obama administration recently announced its decision to scrap the Bush-era plan for an anti-missile shield based in Poland and the Czech Republic many Poles were not surprised. It simply confirmed what they had been expecting.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski meets with reporters in New York. Photo Karolina Szczepanska

Polish President Lech Kaczynski meets with reporters in New York. Photo Karolina Szczepanska

Last fall then-President-elect Obama expressed doubts about the system, and members of the Polish community in the U.S. anticipated that he wouldn’t feel obligated to respect agreements signed in 2008 by the previous administration.

“The US has its own problems now and they do whatever is best for them,” said Grazyna Bulka, east coast director of a Chicago-based shipping company, Polamer Inc. Bulka feared the system would have infuriated Russia, and was relieved to

learn that it had been abandoned.

“Poles love America so much and the U.S. really doesn’t care about us much,” lamented Emilia Sroczynska, a small business owner from Brooklyn, who favors the anti-missile system. “They remember us only when they need us, but they abandon us as soon as they don’t. To me it’s just another disappointment.”

Whether they supported or opposed the Bush plan to place ten ground-based interceptors on Polish soil, many agreed that Obama’s decision to scrap the deal proved that the U.S. considers Poland a second-class ally.

But what truly embittered Poles was the timing of the announcement, widely interpreted either as ignorance or insensitivity to Poland’s history by the Obama administration. (more…)

Low Voter Turnout by Polish Immigrants in EU Election and a Debate Over Where to Focus Political Energy

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska, Polish Daily News and FI2W reporter
A Polish citizen votes in the European parliamentary elections in New York - Photo: Marcin Zurawicz

A Polish citizen votes in the European parliamentary elections in New York – Photo: Marcin Zurawicz

Polish immigrants have historically shown more interest in elections in their home country than in U.S. politics. But now the tables may have turned. At two polling sites in New York on Saturday, only 872 people cast their votes in the European Union parliamentary elections, according to consul Przemyslaw Balcerzyk of the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in New York. That is approximately 10 times fewer than the total number who went to the polls in New York to vote in Polish parliamentary elections two years ago. Last November voters in the heavily Polish neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn turned out in large numbers to vote in the presidential contest between Barack Obama and John McCain.

This was only the second time that Poles participated in an EU election, which typically attracts little attention even in countries that have been members of the European community for a long time. Only around 43% of the EU citizens voted this year, the lowest turnout since this type of election was first held in 1979.

In Poland the turnout was about 24.5%, which was actually more than 5 years ago, when approximately 20% of eligible Poles voted. But among Poles living in the U.S. the election stirred even less interest.

(more…)

Census Representatives Ask New York Ethnic Media for Help With Population Count

From left: NYC immigrant affairs commissioner Guillermo Linares, NYC Census 2010 director Stacey Cumberbatch, and NY Community Media Alliance director Juana Ponce de Leon - Photo: Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska.

From left: NYC immigrant affairs commissioner Guillermo Linares, NYC Census 2010 director Stacey Cumberbatch, and NY Community Media Alliance director Juana Ponce de Leon. (Photo: Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska.)

Census representatives made a plea to New York ethnic journalists to help them spread the message that every New Yorker will benefit from the 2010 Census, even undocumented immigrants. City officials and immigrant organizations supported the initiative, during a press briefing held Tuesday at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

“Census data determine the number of delegates the city gets in Congress and the State Legislature, as well as the size of each of our 51 City Council districts,” said Stacey Cumberbatch, New York City director for Census 2010. “But they also determine how much federal funding New York City gets each year. This money funds things like health care, housing, education or senior services.”

Cumberbatch told the few dozen journalists at the briefing that in 2007 New York City got $22 billion (or $2,700 per person) to fund its various programs. That amount was calculated based on Census data using a simple equation: the more people counted, the more funding appropriated.

(more…)

Illinois Congressman Asks Obama to Add Poland to Visa Waiver Program

Rep. Mike Quigley (D.-Ill.), a newly elected congressman from Chicago, has wasted no time in addressing a key concern of the Polish community in Illinois’ 5th district.

Last Friday, Quigley called on President Barack Obama to support Poland’s plea for inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program — a matter we reported on last week.

Poland has proven to be an indispensable ally in the global campaign against terrorism,” wrote Quigley in a press release.

Including Poland in the Visa Waiver Program will have positive security, economic, and bilateral effects.

In addition, there are thousands of Polish-Americans in my district alone who would benefit by making it easier to have a loved one visit them, not to mention the local businesses that would benefit from tourism dollars.

We owe it to a country that has stood by us, and to the people who would like to visit the United States.

Quigley, a former member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, won the special election held on April 7, 2009 to replace Rahm Emanuel after he vacated the seat in order to serve as Obama’s White House Chief of Staff.

One of Quigley’s rivals in the race was Victor Forys, a Polish immigrant who, despite the large percentage of Polish Americans in the 5th district (17% of all residents), ended up fourth in the special Democratic primary.

Goal of Visiting the U.S. Without a Visa Still Eludes Poles

In recent years, the Polish government stood by the U.S., strongly supporting President Bush’s war on terror by sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, and agreeing to install parts of an American missile defense system in its territory.

As a demonstration of U.S. gratitude, Poland hoped to be included in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which would allow Polish citizens to enter the U.S. as tourists or for business purposes for up to 90 days without having to first obtain a visa. But despite extensive negotiations between representatives of both governments Poland’s dream has not come true, and the chances of Poland joining the program anytime soon are very slim.

Biometric systems to verify travelers identities could help Polands chances of entering the Visa Waiver Program. (Photo: E. Kern-Jedrychowska/Polish Daily News)

Biometric systems to verify travelers' identities could help Poland's chances of entering the Visa Waiver Program. (Photo: E. Kern-Jedrychowska/Polish Daily News)

(more…)

Not A Total Loss: Polish Voters in Chicago Energized Despite Unsuccessful Bid by Polish Candidate

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska, Polish Daily News and FI2W reporter

He didn’t win. But Dr. Victor Forys considers his bid to replace Rahm Emanuel in Illinois’ 5th Congressional District a huge success. Fory’s, a Polish immigrant, finished fourth out of a field of 12 candidates in the special March 3rd Democratic primary with approximately 12% of the vote. Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley, who claimed the Democratic nomination, got 22% of the vote and is poised to win the congressional seat in a special election on April 7th

Dr. Forys

(Photo PolishNews.com)

Forys says his campaign mobilized Polish voters who in recent years have not been very active in politics, both in terms of voting or offering financial support to candidates. “We got them to like American politics, we got them excited about it, so this is not the end, this is just the beginning,” he said in a phone interview the day after the primary. Out of approximately 650,000 residents in the district, more than 17% claim Polish origins.

Forys, a well-known medical doctor, had hoped that low turnout among non-Polish voters combined with the support of his community would be enough for him to win. To a certain degree his plan worked. “I have never seen so many Polish people casting votes,” said Monika Mysliwiec who has worked as a Polish coordinator at the Chicago Board of Elections for the last 9 years. Approximately 300 Polish-speaking callers contacted the Board of Election’s hotline on primary day, mostly looking for their polling site. By comparison, on the day of the presidential election last November, about 100 Poles called. “Some people even called from other districts asking how they can vote for Forys,” said Mysliwiec.

Forys actually won in suburban Cook County where many Polish neighborhoods are located. He got approximately 22.5% of the Democratic votes in that part of the district.

In other areas his task was more difficult. Forys discovered that a tight network of connections and loyalties in Chicago’s political world does not favor outsiders.“Some older Polish Americans living in the city of Chicago have a strong personal relationship with the ward organizations. Moreover, it was an electorate that we couldn’t reach with the Polish media because they watch broadcast TV. We didn’t have enough money,” Forys said.

It also turned out that many Polish immigrants, not having participated in the political process before, didn’t realize they had to register to vote ahead of time. “We received many phone calls from people who thought that they could just go to a polling site with their ID and vote, just like it is in Poland,” said Mysliwiec.

Despite his loss, Poles residing in Chicago are proud of Forys’ attempt. “He changed the dynamics of this race taking away votes from long-time Chicago politicians and beating people like Patrick O’Connor, a Chicago alderman closely affiliated with Mayor Daley,” noted Malgorzata Ptaszynska of 1030 AM, WNVR, a local Polish radio station. “To other Democratic candidates who scored higher than him, like State Representatives Sara Feigenholtz and John Fritchey, politics is daily work, while Forys just walked out of his medical clinic.”

Ptaszynska is also convinced that Forys “gave Poles hope and made them involved. Polonia was noticed and showed itself as a group that does vote after all.” For her it’s a clear signal that Polish immigrants are willing to participate in American politics if they are educated about the American system and believe that their votes matter.

That theory may be tested in the April 7the special election to replace Emanuel who is now White House chief of staff for President Barack Obama. “I really hope that Poles will go out and vote even though the Polish candidate didn’t make it,” noted Monika Mysliwiec.

As for Forys, he does not rule out running for another office in the future. “I’m a physician and I’m happy with my work. But never say never. And if I run again, I want to run for another significant office.”

He even joked that he would like to try his chances in a presidential bid.

Polish Immigrant's Dream: Polish-Americans Will Help Elect Him To Congress

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska, Polish Daily News and FI2W reporter
Victor Forys

Victor Forys

Rod Blagojevich, the Illinois governor under investigation, may have had the power to pick a replacement to fill President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat. But the governor does not get to choose a new representative from the 5th Congressional District, a position he once held, and which was left vacant in early January when Rahm Emanuel resigned from his congressional seat to become the new White House Chief of Staff.

A special election will be held on April 7 to fill the seat, after a primary on March 3. One of the 15 Democrats in the race is a Polish immigrant: Dr. Victor Forys, a political newcomer who believes he has a serious chance due to the area’s large Polish-American population.

Numerous Polish-Americans held the seat in the past, including disgraced congressman Dan Rostenkowski who, prior to his conviction on corruption charges, served as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Martin Gorski, who, like Mr. Forys, was born in Poland and came to the U.S. as a child.

Out of approximately 650,000 residents in the district, more than 111,000 (17%) are of Polish descent.

(more…)