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.