An Asian American software engineer who was lauded for creating a free website to help people find COVID-19 vaccine appointments, and using the platform to raise awareness about the uptick in anti-Asian racism amid the pandemic, has announced he will now run for state office.
Huge Ma, known on Twitter as "TurboVax" or "VaxDaddy," announced Monday he is running as a Democratic candidate for New York's Assembly to represent the 37th District, which comprises of western Queens in New York City.
The political newcomer rose to fame earlier this year, when the website he made on his own time and dime, TurboVax, became a widely-used tool for New Yorkers trying to navigate the headache-inducing search for vaccine appointments. After spending hours refreshing and scouring multiple government-run websites, Ma programmed a website that compiled information from city and state websites and announced appointment availabilities in near-real time on Twitter.
The website was spotlighted in the New York Times and Ma estimates hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers used it to help book vaccine appointments during the arduous early days of the rollout. Then, when a spate of racist attacks targeting Asian Americans, believed to be linked to biases related to the coronavirus pandemic, filled communities across the country with fear and rage, Ma abruptly shut the website down for two days.
"I wanted to illustrate, through this action of taking the site down for two days, that if we as a country don't listen to the concerns of Asian Americans, then we risk losing the contributions of Asian Americans as well," Ma told ABC News in March.
During the brief website shutdown, Ma urged his followers and website visitors to donate to a community-based group aimed at supporting New York City's Chinatown. He wrote on Twitter at the time, "And if you think contributions of Asian-Americans are replaceable, ask your government how their version of TurboVax is going."
In a campaign website launched on Monday, Ma said he "deeply struggled" with the decision to shut down the site for two days in March, but that in the end he raised some $200,000 for the nonprofit Welcome to Chinatown and was able to highlight not only the contributions that Asian Americans bring to society but also give credence to his community's suffering that many felt went unseen.
"I built TurboVax because the system was broken," Ma stated on his campaign website. "When the Mayor and Governor couldn't come together to deliver a single website to find a vaccine, I used my technology background to deliver a platform that helped hundreds of thousands of teachers, grocery store workers and other regular New Yorkers get the vaccine."
"But with the eyes of New York on TurboVax, I decided to use its moment to bring attention to another epidemic: the wave of anti-Asian hate," he added.
Ma is running on a progressive platform, according to to his campaign website, and is focusing on taking action to slow climate change, investing in public transit and affordable housing and building robust technology infrastructure to solve problems and empower New Yorkers.
"I took action when the needs of my neighbors weren't being addressed," Ma wrote on his campaign website.
"I'm taking action now because we need a representative who will address our needs in District 37," Ma wrote. "I am running for the Queensbridge tenant who lives with lead paint, for the Sunnyside resident facing a rent hike and for the frustrated Ridgewood commuter waiting for their bus to arrive."
"It doesn't have to be this way. I will take on the challenges of today with creativity and urgency," he added. "Let's work together and build a New York that works for all of us."
Longtime Democratic incumbent Catherine Nolan, who was first elected to the state Assembly in 1984, currently holds the seat Ma is running for. But residents in New York City's Queens borough are famous for their willingness to embrace political change, after all, in 2018 voters elected then-political newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to represent New York's 14th congressional district, unseating a 10-term incumbent.