Mysterious VGN letter on election disturbs the community

Janelle Clausen

Asian groups and several individuals condemned a letter sent to Blank Slate Media about the Great Neck village elections, describing it as rife with falsehoods and as an attempt to divide the community.

The letter in question, signed by “Mandy Lee,” alleged that Chinese-American groups are promoting candidates based on ethnicity rather than qualifications and that the mayoral contest between James Wu and Mayor Pedram Bral was becoming “a Chinese vs. Jewish fight.”

The letter was posted on the Island Now website last Tuesday and removed a day later amid questions about the identity of the letter writer.  Mandy Lee, a Great Neck resident who is active in the school community, said via Facebook and in a phone call to the paper that she did not write the letter.

The letter also alleged that a supporter of Wu said, “We must slap Jews now. It will take two generations to expel them out!” The letter then contended that a leader of an Asian civic group suggested crab restaurants should open in the village.

The letter went on to question Wu’s qualifications and said Bral’s administration would encourage collaboration to “build together a better Village of Great Neck.”

Lee, describing herself as “The Real Mandy Lee,” wrote to Blank Slate Media, “Someone has used my name and my community involvement without my authority to publish this despicable article. The purpose of the article is clearly trying to divide our community by providing false information and persuade voters.”

While the letter was online, it garnered more than 300 views and condemnation from both the Northshore Asian Civic Association, or NACA, and the Great Neck Chinese Association, or GNCA.

NACA said in a statement that an image of racist remarks was “meticulously edited and intentionally mistranslated to serve the dark purpose of dividing this community.” There were no such discussions in Wu’s campaign group, the group said, calling the letter’s commentary “purely speculative and exaggeration without any factual basis.”

“We want to make ourselves very clear: The racial remarks are repulsive and fabricated with distorted details,” NACA said. “NACA has zero tolerance for such racial divide and moral ambiguity.”

“Both NACA and fellow Asian residents in this community were deeply troubled and sickened by such bigotry in this great community that we live in,” the group added. “We are also concerned about the fact that certain people are using such rhetoric for the basis of the upcoming Village of Great Neck election.”

The Great Neck Chinese Association board of directors said in a statement that while it encourages members to register and vote, its policy is not to endorse any political candidate or participate in political campaigns and that claims otherwise are false.

“We stand by this policy with the understanding that our members hold a wide spectrum of political and religious views,” the board said. “However, we steadfastly and unconditionally condemn any form of anti-Semitism and denounce any action or speech designed to divide our community on the basis of race or ethnicity.”

The Village for All campaign, which includes Wu, Julia Shields and Harold Citron, also posted a statement from Wu on its Facebook page Monday. In it he denounced anti-Semitism as well as the comments and said “these statements would never be made by anyone affiliated with my campaign.”

“Hate speech is wrong and I reject its message and tone as unacceptable. It is beneath the great people of this suburb,” Wu said. “I repudiate anyone who would hate or use hate to try to divide our community.”

Citron, a longtime member of Temple Israel who is running for trustee, said the letter’s publication was “disturbing on a number of fronts.”

Steven Blank, the publisher of Blank Slate Media and its online component, the Island Now, said the letter writer had initially requested the letter be signed by “A Group of Disturbed and Confused Chinese Americans in Great Neck.”

He said he needed to know the identity of the letter writer, who responded via phone and said she would have it submitted “under her name” on behalf of the group. After being reviewed by an editor, the letter was posted online before Lee called saying someone had taken her name to write the divisive letter.

It was removed from the website and not published in the print edition of the paper after the original letter writer did not provide further documentation of his or her identity.

The letter writer “said she did not want to be further involved because she had gotten serious criticism and an angry response to our letter, and she said she feared for her safety,” Blank said.

Further attempts by a reporter to reach the writer via email were unavailing.

Mimi Hu, a former board member of the Great Neck Chinese Association, said the real Mandy Lee is a “well-known member” of the community who had to speak up due to the confusion the letter generated.

“That’s the only Mandy Lee we know and nobody knows about the other Mandy Lee,” Hu said, adding that the Chinese-American community is a “very close knit community.”

Hu said efforts to find the other Mandy Lee have been unavailing and that based on the language of the letter and the disparaging of all the Chinese organizations, many believe it was written under a fake identification.

“This is so serious,” Hu said. “The community is definitely disturbed.”

Bral said he had read the letter, but does not know who the writer is and was not contacted before it was put on the web. He also said he does not like what has been going on in Great Neck with the elections and that he hopes to bring people back together.

“Some statements are upsetting to people when they hear it, and rightfully so. Those statements are hurtful,” Bral said.

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