Margaret Chin New York City’s Councilperson representing District 1, Chair of the Council’s Committee on aging, Co-chairs the Women’s Caucus.
Downtown: Name three women that inspire you and why
Margaret Chin: Patsy Mink – Not only was she the first Asian American woman elected to Congress – she was the first woman of color as well. She set a model for young organizers like me to be unafraid to break boundaries in our service to the community.
Professor Betty Lee Sung – I am inspired by Professor Betty Lee Sung. Her class first opened my eyes to the struggle of Asian-Americans. When I learned about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the history of oppression that so many Asian Americans endured, I knew I had to help break down the barriers that have held so many marginalized communities back. It marked a turning point in my leadership journey and started my path towards a career of activism and advocacy.
Elizabeth Holtzman – Her election made waves in 1973 not merely because she was the youngest woman elected to Congress at the time – but she had also defied the odds to unseat a powerful 50-year incumbent. She continued blazing the trail for women in politics when she was elected the first female Comptroller of New York City.
DT: What has been the secret of your success
MG: Before City Council, I was a college activist, an educator, and a housing rights advocate. Regardless of what role I’ve taken on, I’ve always kept my focus simple – to help people. The cases my office works on each week aren’t always straightforward. Throughout the years, I’ve learned to approach problem-solving creatively and to never underestimate the power of local organizing. The work that I do in City Hall has always been informed by the work I do with my constituents, and I’m very proud of that.
DT: If you were going to pass on one piece of advice to a young woman looking for success, what would it be?
MG: My journey to City Council took nearly 20 years. In spite of the naysayers and voices that told me to “wait my turn” or that “I didn’t look the part,” I stayed in the community and continued building local power from the ground up. My advice to young women – wherever you are in your career trajectory – is to stay centered, stay focused, and never let anyone else dictate your worth.
DT: In the fight for women’s equality, what area do you think needs the most attention?
MG: We need all of our leaders to fully recognize and acknowledge the contributions of women. Every issue is a woman’s issue. We need better representation in health and reproductive rights spaces, but we also need representation in spaces that address transportation access, fair housing and land use.
DT: What are you most proud of in your career?
MG: All New Yorkers deserve a chance to grow old in the neighborhoods they helped to build. This is a fundamental value that has fueled my work since my days as an affordable housing advocate in Chinatown. In NYC Council, I have been able to pass legislation and strengthen the ability of community groups to preserve and expand affordable housing for low-income families. While the work is far from over, whenever we get a call from a family or a senior who was now able to move into a home of their own – especially after struggling through a period of housing instability – it reinforces the need to continue fighting to make this value a reality for everyone.
DT: Where do you get your confidence?
MG: The unconditional support of my family gives me the confidence to do what I do every day.
DT: What makes a woman beautiful?
MG: A woman’s beauty is defined by her core values.
DT: What gives you joy?
MG: The simple things! When I walk down the street and a constituent stops me to thank my office for our help, I know that we were able to make a positive difference in someone else’s life. These small moments remind me why this work matters.