Monday, June 12, 2006

Bad Omen for Fil-Am Candidates

The California elections were held on 6/06/06, the same day as the nationwide opening of The Omen. That should have been a sign right there that the three Filipino American candidates running for public office in the San Francisco Bay Area would not do so well. And in fact, they all lost. In contrast, there were six Chinese American candidates running for various public offices and all six won. That's 666 for us and 6 for 6 for them.

In his first run for Superior Court Judge in Alameda County, Mike Nisperos garnered just 11.9% of the vote, placing 4th behind winner Dennis Hayashi, a Japanese American, who obtained 30.7%. Hayashi had run for the Assembly two years ago and lost but gained a great deal of political experience from it. He then ran for a seat on the AC Transit Board, which he won handily. The political contacts he made in both election campaigns proved very useful in his run for judge.

It also helped Hayashi that his wife, Mary, a Korean-American, was running for the Democratic nomination in the 18th Assembly district (which she won) and that they shared a common political consultant, Richie Ross, who is nationally known for grassroots organizing. Their joint campaigns drew cross-over supporters.

In the race for Solano County Assessor, Pete Sanchez obtained 39.49% of the vote, not nearly enough to unseat the appointed "carpetbagger" incumbent, Marc Tonnessen, who gathered 60.29% of the vote.

When I passed through Vallejo the weekend before the elections, I noticed the signs of Sanchez and Tonnessen all over the city. The difference between their signs was that Pete's just carried his name while Tonnessen's featured his photo. In fact, he was the only candidate for public office whose photo was on all his signs. One could not help but conclude that this was a deliberate appeal to white voters to vote for one of them against a "Sanchez" whose name suggests that he might have crossed the border illegally.

While the Fil-Am community held high hopes that Pete Sanchez and Mike Nisperos would win, the same was not true of East Bay Assemblyman candidate Tony Daysog, a vice-mayor in the city of Alameda. While both Pete and Mike were competitive in fund-raising, Tony raised only a fraction. That Tony only garnered 9.8% of the vote against Sandre Swanson, the winner, who won 42% and Oakland City Attorney John Russo who garnered 35.7%, was not therefore unexpected.

It might be a consolation to Tony to know that he got more votes per dollar spent than any of his opponents who each raised more than $200,000 for their campaigns. Tony probably raised less than $1,000 and may have spent 10 cents for each vote he received, if that.

In contrast, San Francisco Supervisor Fiona Ma spent $87 for each one of her votes in her successful victory over Janet Reilly in the 12th Assembly District. Reilly spent $78 for each vote she received. According to the San Francisco Chronicle's Matier & Ross (6/11/06), "Ma and Reilly each raised $1.4 million, with Reilly's total including $560,000 from her and her husband, former political consultant Clint Reilly."

"But Ma's friends -- worried that Reilly might outspend them -- weighed in with an additional $935,000 through various independent expenditure committees that mounted their own campaigns for Ma. Combine the campaign money and special-interest flood, and Ma's total is over $2.33 million," wrote Matier & Ross.

Aside from Fiona Ma, the five other Chinese American candidates who won include Assemblyman Leland Yee who beat out San Mateo Supervisor Mike Nevin for the Democratic nomination for State Senator representing San Francisco and San Mateo.

Former Superior Court Judge Lillian Sing won a return to a seat to the bench by defeating San Francisco lawyer Eric Saffire. State Board of Equalization member John Chiang won the Democratic nomination for State Controller while Betty Yee and Judy Chu each won their own Board of Equalization seats.

One reason Chinese American candidates can win is that there is enough of a critical mass of them who have run for and held office for mainstream voters to see them as being fully capable of representing more than just their own Chinese American community.

Because there are so few Filipino Americans holding public office, our community's candidates may be viewed by mainstream voters as suspect, of being only concerned with representing "their own community" and not capable of representing the interests of the rest of "us".

If a Filipino American gets elected as County Supervisor and, in that post, shows that he or she can handle the job capably, representing all the members of his or her district, then mainstream perceptions about Fil-Am candidates will change. The problem is that you first have to have Fil-Ams elected to positions where they can show their mettle. It's the chicken and the egg. How do you show your mettle if you can't get elected and how do you get elected if you can't show your mettle?

When I was raising funds for my re-election campaign to the College Board in 2004, a number of Filipinos I approached informed me that they would contribute to my campaign if I ran for mayor. Only then?

Every time I am introduced as "the only Filipino American elected official in San Francisco", I sigh. This is not a mark of honor or distinction, it is a reflection of our unempowered-ness. There should be three or more Filipino American elected officials in the city, not just one. I would truly feel more honored, for our community, if I was introduced as just one of many Fil-Am elected officials in San Francisco.

But the system is certainly not fair. In 1991, at a forum for candidates for San Francisco mayor, I asked then Supervisor Angela Alioto if it was fair that she was already considered a viable major candidate after only serving two years as Supervisor just because her father had been a mayor of San Francisco, while many minority candidates have to serve years on various commissions and be elected to school boards or college boards and then to the Board of Supervisors before they can even be considered viable.

Angela quickly answered "Yes!" Because, she said, "I've wanted to be mayor since I was 8."

Everyone should have the right to dream to be a mayor or even a president someday. That's Angela's right and it should be every Filipino kid's right too. But having the right to dream and the right to have that dream realistically materialize are two vastly different worlds right now.

Chinese American kids now can have the same right to dream to be mayor of San Francisco and to have that dream realized, just as Alioto did when she was 8, because there are now so many Chinese American elected officials. When will Filipino American kids have that same right to dream and have their dreams realized?