Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Daly's City

When I first ran for the San Francisco Community College Board in 1992, I employed a strategy of putting together a list of all the registered Filipino voters in the city - a process of voter extrapolation that included those who listed the Philippines as their place of birth and those with “Filipino sounding” names - and then contacting and connecting with those voters..

After compiling a list of 14,000 names and phone numbers, I asked a phone bank of volunteers to call the folks in the list to introduce me to them, to inform them of my experience as president of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) and of the fact that I initiated the move to transfer 15 acres of SFPUC reservoir land to the Ocean Campus of City College, the most congested community college campus in the state. My volunteers also emphasized the empowering need for our community to have representatives elected to policy-making positions.

Even though I only raised about $40,000 that year - easily outspent by another candidate who poured $180,000 of her own personal funds to win a seat, I won that first race and every election since then. I credit that initial victory with our strategy of getting out the Filipino vote and asking the Filipino voters to encourage their friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers to vote for me.

That strategy may have worked then but I am not sure it would work now. There are 437,995 registered voters in San Francisco . Out of this number, 308,188 were born in the US and 106,497 were born abroad. About 81,608 voters are identified as “Asian” while another 48,204 are self-identified as Chinese. Of this total number, only 11,677 identify themselves as Filipinos (source:

It may be that this figure is a gross undercount. It may also be that the figure is accurate and reflects the emigration of Filipinos of San Francisco to the suburbs of Daly City (where 35% of the population is Filipino), South San Francisco, Colma and further out to the Alameda cities of Union City, Hayward and Fremont and beyond to Vallejo and Benecia.

The rapid increase in the numbers of Filipinos in those cities has resulted in the election of Filipinos to public office there. But how will it affect the prospect of electing Filipinos in San Francisco now ?

Conchita Applegate, a Filipino American Republican in San Francisco , is running against incumbent Democrat Fiona Ma for the State Assembly, a daunting challenge for anyone, but especially in a city where 246,460 voters identify themselves as Democrats and only 43,232 as Republicans (source:

Myrna Viray Lim, a Filipino American Democrat, is running for Supervisor in District 11, in a district which has a termed-out incumbent and a population that is 49% Asian (5,000 Filipinos, 7,000 Chinese and 1,000 Vietnamese), according to the poll data obtained by Lim. As the only woman and the only Asian in a tight race, Myrna Lim may yet eke out a win over her three male opponents, who are more heavily funded.

According to poll data, Filipinos live all over San Francisco but are especially concentrated in District 6 (South of Market and the Tenderloin) and in District 11 (outer Mission and Excelsior). St. Patrick’s Church in District 6 and Corpus Christi Church and Epiphany Church in District 11 have mostly Filipino congregations.

In District 6, the supervisor is Chris Daly, the subject of a critical column I wrote (“The Dream of Ed De La Cruz”, Telltale Signs, 04/26/06). I described how Daly maneuvered the cut-off of funds to the West Bay Pilipino Multi-Service Center, established by the late Filipino community leader Ed de la Cruz, and then subsequently transferred of those funds to groups and individuals who are allied with and loyal to Daly.

As a result of Daly’s anti-Filipino activities, I actively involved myself in the 2006 campaign to unseat him, supporting his main opponent, Rob Black. But Daly won and, in his election night victory speech, he announced that he would get back at those who came out against him.

To make good on his threat this year, Daly fielded a slate of candidates to the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC), winning a significant plurality of seats in the 34-member DCCC in the June 6 primaries. Daly then threatened wavering members that if they didn’t vote for his candidate for DCCC chair (Aaron Peskin), he would make it his “personal mission to make sure that (they) never receive the endorsement of the Guardian, Tenants Union, Sierra Club, and Milk Club in subsequent races.” ("Aaron Peskin wins vote for Dem county chair”, Heather Knight, San Francisco Chronicle, 07/25/08)

The threat worked. As a result, the “San Francisco Democratic Party has veered dramatically to the left, telling voters that on Nov. 4 they should elect a raft of ultra-liberal supervisorial candidates, decriminalize prostitution, boot JROTC from public schools, embrace public power and reject Mayor Gavin Newsom's special court in the Tenderloin.” (“S.F. Democrats take a sharp turn to the left”, Heather Knight, San Francisco Chronicle, 08/15/08).

As a result of Daly's take-over, for the first time since I first ran for office, I did not receive the endorsement of the SFDCCC nor of any of the democratic clubs in the city under Daly's control or sway. One of those groups is the San Francisco Filipino American Democratic Club (FADC) under Joe Julian, a DCCC member who won on Daly’s slate. Julian did not even invite me to be interviewed for consideration of endorsement by his FADC.

When one of those endorsed by the FADC for the School Board, Emily Murase, sent in her check to help pay for the FADC slate mailer, she was informed by Roy Recio, the chair of the club’s political action committee, that she needed to write a check instead to the “Change Slate”. She was dismayed to learn that this was a PAC controlled by Chris Daly. (“S.F. Filipino club backs Daly PAC”, Ken Garcia, San Francisco Examiner, 10/17/08).

When Chris Daly wants to stick it to you, he wants you to know it. But will he get away with it?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Standing Up to a Bully

The most contentious issue facing San Francisco voters in the November ballot is Proposition H, called the "Clean Energy Act" by its supporters and the "Blank Check Initiative" by its opponents. It seeks to amend San Francisco ’s charter "to require the City to transition from fossil fuels to clean, non-nuclear, sustainable energy production at affordable rates" by purchasing Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), local private supplier of electric power.

Critics have denounced Proposition H as a sneaky attempt by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to arrogate to itself the power to issue revenue bonds to take over PG&E or any other utility without the vote of the people.

This “public power” measure has been the pet project and obsession of the publisher of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Bruce B. Brugmann, who has placed three similar propositions on the San Francisco ballot in the last six years, all of which have failed.

Millions of dollars are currently being spent on both sides of this measure, pitting advocates of clean energy with those who believe that spending $4-B of the city taxpayers’ money to purchase PG&E is outrageous.

No matter how many times this issue has failed to win the approval of the voters (four times in the last ten years), Brugmann persists in putting it on the ballot, believing that he will eventually wear down the opposition to his will.

Brugmann’s first attempt to push the city to purchase PG&E occurred in 1991 when he successfully convinced 8 out of the 11 members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to support his proposal. The next step in the process was to get the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to (SFPUC) to go along with the Board of Supervisors.

I was appointed to the SFPUC in 1987 by Mayor Art Agnos, the first Filipino American to be appointed to a major commission in the city. I served two terms as president of the commission until February of 1991 when Mayor Agnos appointed me to the San Francisco Community College Board to fill the position left vacant by the election of Trustee Julie Tang to the San Francisco Superior Court in the November 1990 elections.

I was to be sworn in to my new position as College Board Trustee on the last Thursday of February 1991. Before transferring over to the College Board, however, I had one last SFPUC meeting to attend which was set for the third Tuesday in February. And it was the meeting where the SFPUC would vote on the Brugmann resolution.

Out of the five (5) members of the SFPUC, two were in favor of municipalization and two were against. I had not made up my mind on the issue and so I would be the deciding vote.

In the week leading up to the vote, I was furiously lobbied by proponents and opponents of the resolution. I read all the materials they provided and I asked questions from the SFPUC staff to conduct my "due diligence" on the issue.

The day before the vote, I received a personal call from Mr. Brugmann. After introducing himself to me, he went straight to the point of his call. "If you don’t vote for this resolution," he said, "I will personally see to it that you are never elected to public office in San Francisco ."

Why couldn’t he talk to me intelligently? Why couldn’t he just explain the benefits of public power? Why did he believe that threatening me was the best way to secure my vote?

Did he not know that I had stood up to the Marcos Dictatorship in the Philippines at great risk to myself and my family? Did he not know that I had close friends who were imprisoned, tortured and killed by Marcos and his goons yet I never buckled to the threats of Marcos? Who did this tinhorn bully publisher think he was threatening me to either vote his way or the highway?

Brugmann must have believed himself truly powerful as the leader of the "progressives" in San Francisco even though his weekly is filled with sex ads which blatantly exploit women and even though he has crushed every attempt by his workers to unionize.

"Mr. Brugmann," I replied, "I do not appreciate your threatening me. If I voted in favor of your resolution because of your threat, I won’t deserve to be elected to any public office." End of conversation.

After objectively weighing all the pros and cons of the issue, I voted against the municipalization of PG&E, a vote that would end Mr. Brugmann’s pet cause for the next 7 years.

There was hell to pay for my vote. Then Supervisor Terrence Hallinan denounced me to a San Francisco Chronicle reporter as a "stooge of PG&E," a charge that the San Francisco Bay Guardian would repeat over and over again after the vote and since then.

I really thought that was the end of my political career, quashed before it got off the ground. With the mighty San Francisco Bay Guardian urging voters not to vote for me, there was no way I could retain my seat in the College Board in the November 1992 elections.

Even though the Bay Guardian has a weekly circulation of 150,000 copies, I won in 1992, in 1996, in 2000 and again in 2004, all with the Bay Guardian urging its readers not to vote for me. This year, I am running for reelection, again without the endorsement of the San Francisco Bay Guardian which did not even bother to invite me to be interviewed.

And once again, I oppose this public power measure which I believe will hurt our community—our seniors and future generations of San Franciscans who would be saddled with $4 billion or more in debt to take over an electric system that has provided service to our city for more than 100 years. As an elected official, I strongly believe that our primary responsibility is to protect the financial interests of the taxpayers—not to waste or misappropriate public funds. This is why I opposed Brugmann's public power initiative17 years ago and that is why I oppose it now.

Vote No on Proposition H!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


This has been a terrible year for Filipino Americans running for public office.

On September 22, Hawaii State Senator Ron Menor lost his re-election bid by just 123 votes to little known challenger Michelle Kidani, ending his distinguished 22-year career in state politics. In another contested primary race in Hawaii , House Rep. Alex Sonson lost his bid to unseat State Sen. Clarence Nishihara in a heavily Filipino district, in the process forfeiting his state house seat.

State Sen. Menor had handily won his Waipahu seat in previous elections until he was arrested on April 22 this year for driving under the influence. His opponent made his DUI arrest the major issue of the campaign. Menor’s father, the late Benjamin Menor, was Hawaii’s first and only Filipino American Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court.

In the June California primaries, West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon lost his bid to be the first Filipino American member of the California Legislature, losing to Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada. In the same California primary, Sweetwater Union High School District President Arlene Ricasa also lost her assembly bid to San Diego Community College Trustee Marty Block.

In the same June 3 primary race, Milpitas Mayor Joe Esteves lost his race for county supervisor to San Jose vice mayor Dan Cortese.

In the November 2007 elections, Seattle City Councilman David Della, a keynote speaker at the Third Global Filipino Networking Convention in Cebu City in 2005, lost to former Seattle police officer Tim Burgess who was heavily supported by Seattle ’s firefighters union which sought to punish Della for failing to secure council approval for a particular program they backed. With the union’s financial ($50,000) and manpower support, Burgess won 66% of the vote, depriving Washington state of its only Filipino in elected office.

The only notable Filipino candidate to win recently is Jess Diaz who won a seat in the Blacktown City Council. But Jess is not a Filipino American and Blacktown City is located in New South Wales, Australia.

“This is a milestone for Filipino-Australians towards political empowerment and a win for all Filipinos. By making a significant contribution to the mainstream society, Filipinos can earn the respect, raise the esteem and inculcate pride in ourselves," Diaz said.

Carlos Villadiego, a Blacktown resident, said: “Jess is now our new voice. We finally have someone who will really represent us and make our voices heard.”

Undeterred by the rash of Filipino losses in the United States, I am campaigning vigorously to retain my seat in the San Francisco Community College Board in the November elections. Even though I have a solid record of accomplishments, which include three terms as president of the board, I cannot take this election for granted.

Last weekend, while I was handing out campaign flyers at the corner of Mission and 6th Street, Manong Bert, who lived at a nearby hotel for seniors, came by to help me distribute my literature. In the course of handing out the flyers, Manong Bert asked me if I could do something about the young Filipino girls (“maybe 12, 13 or 14 years old”, he said) who were selling their bodies right there at 6th and Mission at night.

Manong Bert told me that he has seen these young Pinays for some time now and it breaks his heart each time as these young girls could be his “apo” (grandchildren). He learned from striking up conversations with them that they are hooked on drugs and that their pimps are out there forcing them to sell their bodies just for shabu (methamphetamine) or cocaine.

Manong Bert inquired from the girls if their parents knew what they were doing at night. Definitely not, they said. Their parents were too busy working two low-paying jobs each just to make ends meet, they said, so they have no time to spend with their kids.

There are no elected Filipino supervisors in San Francisco who can direct the city’s resources and funds to deal with the problems of the Filipino community, the kind of problems that require intervention. Myrna Viray Lim is running for Supervisor in District 11, the heavily-Filipino Excelsior District where the parishes of Epiphany and Corpus Christi are located. Myrna deserves our community’s support because if she is elected, she can focus the city’s attention on teenage prostitution, among other issues.

We, at City College, are proud of what we have done and continue to do for the Filipino community. We have about 4,000 Filipino students enrolled at City College and we offer 21 Philippine Studies courses. We have 48 Filipino American teachers and a Tagalog-speaking counselor at our Asian Pacific American Students Success (APASS) Center. We just recently set up a Tulay (bridge) program to offer tutorial services in math to our Filipino students. We have an Equal Opportunity Program (EOP) that provide at-risk students with free tuition, free lunch, free books and free bus passes. Those enrolled in the EOP have the highest enrollment success rate at City College.

But what about those who don’t make it to college?

As I wrote in last week’s column, Filipinos have the highest drop-out rate in San Francisco’s public schools. Many of the drop-outs fall into gangs. Others settle for low-paying jobs which require them to work two jobs even when they have families and kids they badly need to spend time with. Still others join the military and are dispatched to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Apparently, they’re the lucky ones.

The hard luck ones sell their bodies for shabu and crack on the streets of San Francisco.