The Queensborough Community College Student Union was abuzz with warm congratulations for Linda Lee on Sunday afternoon, April 3, as she was sworn in to lead the Eastern Queens neighborhoods of Bayside Hills, Bellerose, Douglaston, Floral Park, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks, Hollis, Hollis Hills, Holliswood, Little Neck, New Hyde Park, Oakland Gardens, and Queens Village in the New York City Council.
The event included performances by the Benjamin N. Cardozo High School Navy ROTC Color Guard, YeDam Missions Drum Team, Queens College Fanaa Dance Team, and Korean Community Services’ Dance Team, invocations from community religious leaders, speeches by United States Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, NYS Attorney General Tish James, NYS Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Congresswoman Grace Meng, Assembly Member Nily Rozic, and QCC President Dr. Christine Mangino. Lee was sworn into office on her family’s bible by Meng and Rozic, surrounded by her family. As the Master of Ceremonies, Anthony J. Lemma III Jr. noted, “Linda is an amazing public servant already, but above all, a good person.”
“Her friendship is paramount to everyone,” said Rabbi Daniel Pollack of Council Member Linda Lee in his touching invocation at the inauguration, where he correlated how Pesach holds strong significance to the Jewish community. “It reminds us that the Jewish nation was released from bondage to take part in a new world of freedom. On the Seder night, families gather together and eat matzah (unleavened bread), bitter herbs, and other various ethnic foods that are a part of the holiday.” Rabbi Pollack explained that the narrative of the Seder night begins with Ha lachma anya, “This is the bread of poverty, of affliction, that our forefathers ate in Egypt… All those who are hungry, please come to eat; and all those who are in need, come and let’s celebrate Passover together.” Rabbi Pollack questioned why we are inviting guests during the meal once already in progress, and offered a response that highlighted the mindset of Council Member Linda Lee: “It is not an invitation; rather it is a declaration, a statement, to say that when Jewish people have a celebration, they do not forget their community; they remember others.”
Rabbi Pollack’s connection to Lee began years ago when she was CEO and Executive Director at Korean Community Services (KCS), where she showed compassion for all by creating the first community-based social service organization dedicated to serving the Korean American community. Rabbi Pollack extolled Lee with a passage from Pirkei Avos: “Of all the great traits and attributes that a person may have, a leiv tov, a good heart, is one that encompasses everything.”
“There are far too many people in our society, especially our seniors, who don’t have [many] opportunities,” said Lee as part of her remarks. “I felt it is so important to provide for those who deserve to be cared for, and to stand up for those who don’t have a voice. The more I worked at [Korean Community Services], the more I saw it wasn’t just seniors who deserved better – kids, parents, workers, business owners – they’re all struggling in their own ways.”
Lee won the District 23 primary in June over a crowded field of seven candidates, and she went on to win the general election in November, becoming the first Korean-American woman elected to the New York City Council alongside Council Member Julie Won, and the first woman of color to ever hold office in District 23. She succeeds former Council Member Barry Grodenchik who held the seat from 2015 to 2021. Today, Lee serves as the Chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addictions, co-Chair of the Queens Delegation, co-Vice Chair of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus, and she serves on the committees on Aging, Contracts, Education, General Welfare, Parks and Recreation, Transportation and Infrastructure, and the Subcommittee on Senior Centers and Food Insecurity. She is also a member of the Women’s Caucus.
By Shabsie Saphirstein