‘Vax Daddy’ gives politics a chance: pandemic hero shows up for Queens State Assembly seat

Huge “Vax Daddy” Ma kisses Kafia Saxe, owner of Communitea, in Long Island City on December 10, 2021. | Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

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This article was originally published through The city December 12

When Huge Ma shut down his TurboVax website this spring after helping connect countless New Yorkers to COVID-19 vaccine dates, he found himself starting to “think more out of my place in the world.” world “.

Two million people had visited its website in four months, frustrated by clunky city and state portals. He has become a virtual folk hero, earning tons of thanks from people who give him credit for saving lives.

“I code for a living,” said Ma, 31. “I never imagined that I could have this kind of tangible impact on the lives of all of these people. “

Now he hopes to make a new impact with a candidacy for the New York State Assembly: he has filed documents to launch a Democratic Senior Challenge for a seat currently held by longtime incumbent Cathy Nolan in the district. from Queens where he was raised.

He is fighting to represent part of the borough that includes Sunnyside, Ridgewood, Long Island City, Astoria and Maspeth – and currently straddles part of the Congressional District held by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which has upset the Democratic establishment. of Queens in 2018.

A screenshot of TurboVax in February

Although he always followed local politics, it was the popularity of TurboVax that drove him to pursue a career in public service, he said.

“I only did what I thought was right and what was good for my neighbors,” he said of his website and Twitter presence linking people to the vaccine. “I think it’s an extension of that.”

Ma hopes to use her credentials as a civic technician to oust Nolan, who was first elected to the Assembly in 1984. She fended off a challenge of two left candidates, Mary Jobaida and Danielle Brecker, in 2020.

Jobaida has also announced that she will be entering next year’s competition, which may be affected by electoral redistribution.

In a text, Nolan told THE CITY that she felt “ready for anything”.

“You saved us”

Ma was working as a software engineer at Airbnb when he launched TurboVax in mid-January to scan unfriendly websites in cities and states to quickly find available appointments for New Yorkers looking for the jab.

He has also used the site and its massive number of Twitter followers – its posts have garnered 120 million views – for social and political activism.

After an upsurge in hate crimes in Asia, Ma temporarily closed TurboVax in late February, encouraging his supporters to call their representatives and take other steps to end incidents of bias. He also has raised nearly $ 200,000 to support businesses in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

During his run for mayor, Andrew Yang promised to give Ma the key to the city and a job if elected.

He never received a key from Yang, but he does get hugs from strangers.

“You saved us, you really did it,” said Kafia Saxe, owner of Communitea in Long Island City, in tears after realizing Ma was in her cafe during an interview with THE CITY.

“Thanks to you, your dedication and your genius, we received our vaccines,” she told him, before asking for a hug. “And everyone did. It made us all safer here.

“I became a repairman”

Lauren Baer, ​​managing partner of political organization Arena and a former congressional candidate in Florida, said her organization has seen a wave of newcomers drawn to politics due to the pandemic.

“I think one thing that the pandemic has certainly made real to people is both the importance of government services and policies, as well as the limits of those government services and policies depending on who is currently in office,” she declared.

“People have seen that their real world experiences can be incredibly useful to government,” she added.

Ma grew up as an only child in Astoria, living on the “immigrant train” of her parents, who both emigrated from Hong Kong, he said. The family spent their rare days off at Astoria Park or at the $ 3 movie night at the Sunnyside Center Cinema on Queens Boulevard, he said.

When Ma was in second grade at Stuyvesant High School, her father died of a stroke. He quickly learned to solve problems on his own.

“I became a repairman,” he said, recalling how he helped run his late father’s modest eyewear store while browsing college applications. Ma then attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied economics, and has worked in technology ever since.

So when Ma tried to make a vaccine appointment with his mother, a nurse, last January, he saw a problem for himself and for others – especially the busy and the elderly. without technological training.

“I feel like our government really needs to tackle our problems today,” Ma told LA VILLE. Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

“I feel like our government really needs to tackle our problems today with urgency and creativity,” he said.

If elected to the assembly, he said he hopes to work on some of the most pressing issues facing the city and his district, including transportation, affordable housing and the effects of climate change.

He also wishes to bring his technical expertise to the state legislature.

“Technology is a crucial part of how government delivers services, and I feel like we accept when government technology isn’t OK,” he said. “But when we think of the real life and death services provided by the government, we should have the highest expectations. “

Mom greets mom

The first person who told him not to run for office was the same person who inspired him to start TurboVax: his mother.

She said, ‘You’ve done a great thing, you’ve got a wonderful job, you’ve got health care and benefits – why are you going to give it all up for that risk? “Ma recalls.

He explained to her that her running in some ways honors the sacrifice she made for him – working in a garment factory in Long Island City while attending school to be a nurse.

“People very rarely have the opportunity to defend their neighbors, to improve their lives,” he said. “I am running to do justice to his sacrifice.”

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