Austin Cheng’s life has revolved around service, whether that has meant serving his country in the military or helping his family’s business. Now he is seeking to serve in another capacity, representing New York’s 3rd Congressional District, and on Sept. 27 Cheng announced his candidacy for a seat that will be hotly contested next fall.
The 34-year-old, who lives in Glen Cove, is a child of immigrants. His father, Tung Cheng emigrated to the United States from Hong Kong, and his mother, Katy Chiang, came to this country from Taiwan, where she founded the Gramercy Surgery Center in Queens.
Austin was born in Queens but grew up in Merrick, where he attended local middle schools. He studied at Benjamin Cardozo High School, in Bayside, for two years before transferring to Portledge School in Locust Valley.
He earned a degree in political science from Union College, in Schenectady, where, Cheng said, he first felt first called to service, and joined the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps.
“I just felt the need to serve and give back to the community,” he said. “There are a lot of different ways to serve your community, but that was my way of giving back to them.”
Cheng went on to earn a law degree from Brooklyn Law School in 2014. While balancing academics and internships at his family’s surgery center, he enlisted in active duty in the Army Judge Advocate Corps, known as JAG.
During his military service, Cheng was the sole criminal prosecutor at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, where he prosecuted courts-martial for nearly every military unit on the base.
His focus in the JAG Corps, he explained, was criminal law. He became familiar with military and federal criminal law, and gained experience in “what legislation at the federal level can and can’t do on the criminal justice side,” he said.
“It was a really, really good experience,” Cheng said. “I was effectively helping the law enforcement officers navigate their legal parameters on what was legal and what was not advisable for them.”
In 2019 Cheng’s mother told him she had terminal cancer, and was thinking about selling the surgery center. “It seemed like a shame for her to package up and sell off this legacy that she built up,” her son said, so he left active duty and took over the operation of the company.
His mother died in 2020, and only a week after her funeral, the coronavirus pandemic arrived in this country. Cheng described that period as “quite a transition for me,” but he persevered, and continues to serve as Gramercy Surgery Center’s chief executive.
He was motivated to run for office, he said, because he saw how divided the country was becoming, and “was tired of that.” He said that with his background and experience, he felt he could continue to serve the area in a different way, in Congress.
“It seemed like our political leaders or community leaders that we elected weren’t really focusing on presenting real solutions to real problems that we had,” Cheng said. “It was a very similar feeling to when I felt the need to serve in the military, and when I felt called to come back and help my mother and my family.”
Cheng is running as a Democrat, and he believes that a number of issues are pressing concerns to members of the district. From the cap on state and local tax deductions, to the cost of living, to environmental concerns and reproductive rights, it’s problems like these, he said, that New Yorkers are wrestling with, and he believes he’s the right man to help them.
Cheng said that although New York state is a strong supporter of abortion rights, he believes those rights need stronger support at the federal level and that, with his background in the law and health care, he can provide it. The cost of living is also a top concern for him, both as a small business owner and as a resident of the district.
“The district has really been plagued by people who are not really focused on taking care of the community,” Cheng said. “They either use this seat as a stepping stone to another political position, or they’re just outright frauds like George Santos, but I hope to be able to bring solutions back to the community.”