4 Asian Americans vying for LA City Council seats

LOS ANGELES – A historic four Asian Americans are vying for a seat in the LA City Council — a place they have not had representation since the mid-1980s and early 1990s.

Korean Americans John Choi and Emile Mack; and Filipino-American Alex De Ocampo, are among the 12 competitors aiming to replace mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti in the 13th Council District.

Japanese American LAPD Deputy Chief Terry Hara is running for the 9th Council District seat in the March 5 primary election.

The last time an Asian American sat in the city council, Ronald Reagan and George Bush were Presidents of the United States, respectively.

Michael Woo became the first Asian American on the council, when the Chinese American was elected to represent CD13 in 1985.

“I’m actually disappointed that there hasn’t been an Asian American on council in 20 years,” Woo told the Asian Journal. “It’s not my intention to keep this record but then again, there’s no guarantee that an Asian American has to sit on the council.”

Most impressive, Woo won at a time when Asians only made up 10 percent of the district’s population, five percent as voters. Woo served on the city council from 1985 to 1993.

Since Woo’s historic election more than two decades ago, Asian Americans have become the fastest growing ethnic group in the country especially in Los Angeles and California. There are about 380,000 Asian Americans (about 100,000 Filipinos) living in the city of Los Angeles.

However, Asian American candidates have tried but have often come up short when running for an elected position in Los Angeles, which is an anomaly compared to how Asian Americans have been doing outside of LA in state and nationwide races.

“Statewide (California) the Asian American caucus is very large and the Supreme Court has tremendous Asian American representation,” said Raphael J. Sonenshein, executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute (PBI) of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

“LA is a lagging phenomenon given that Asian Americans in California are one of the most active groups and have done a tremendous job sending people to Washington and the state legislature,” he added.

Sonenshein believes that Asian American candidates in LA may have hindered themselves over the years, waiting for a favorable redistricting map where perhaps, they could geographically serve an area with a large Asian population.

However, when that redistricting fiasco went against them (Koreatown residents filed a lawsuit accusing city officials of redrawing the district lines using race as the basis), Asian American candidates now, are going to run “where they believe they have a chance of winning,” said Sonenshein.

Sonenshein points to the large number of Asian American candidates in CD 13, which covers Historic Filipinotown, parts of Hollywood, Koreatown, Silverlake, Atwater and Echo Park. He’s not surprised that there are three Asian American candidates.

“There is not one dominant ethnic group controlling the area,” he said, explaining that historically the areas dominant population group usually elects one of their own. “Council District 13 is also the place where Mike Woo succeeded.”

As for Council District 9, where Japanese American Terry Hara is a candidate, Sonenshein said Hara has a distance chance of winning in an area split between African Americans and Hispanics.

Woo said for an Asian American to win a seat requires several factors. Woo points out the Asian American must be active in the community, be a good solid candidate, and be able to build a coalition within the city or district.

“Even if you [the candidate] gets 100 percent of the Asian vote that wouldn’t be enough to win,” he said. “In my case, I was able to win by bringing in a coalition of groups. Asian Americans cannot comprise the majority. It is a building block.”

Still, the fact that there are four Asian Americans running for a council seat shows that the ethnic group is progressing politically. This is the first race for the three Asian Americans running for CD13.

As for who’ll win his old seat, he said: “This is going to be a challenge. There are 12 total candidates. It’s going to be hard for any of them to stand out. It won’t be easy. The more Asian American candidates, the more likely the Asian American votes will be divided. If there was only one Asian American, maybe but there’s still no guarantee. It’s going to be person who built the largest coalition or majority together.”

Terry Hara

Deputy Police Chief Terry Hara is a Japanese-American running for election to the LA City Council seat for District 9 (CD9), which includes Staples Center, LA Live, South Los Angeles, and USC

Education: Bachelor of Arts degree from National University, and is a graduate of the Senior Management Institute for Police Program from the Police Executive Research Forum at Boston University.

Awards/ Recognition: Outstanding Achievement Award for Law Enforcement from the Association of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the Spirit of Los Angeles Award, and the Local Heroes Award by KCET and Union Bank.

Top Three Priorities:

– Improving the quality of life

– Promoting economic development in the district

– Improving public safety

Part of Hara’s action plan includes curbing illegal dumping. Upon assuming office, Hara said that he will prioritize infrastructure improvement, like repairing sidewalks and streetlights, and cleaning up the streets of the district.

In economic development, Hara said that he will push for a community-based agreement that will promote local hiring within the district. He cited two major projects that can bring new jobs to the district, namely the proposed Farmer’s Field football stadium and the USC University Village remodeling. Hara said that he will strongly advocate for these proposed projects that can provide jobs to CD9 residents.

Being a police officer for over 33 years, Hara is well aware of the problems in the streets of the 9th District.

“We need to continue strengthening bonds with the block clubs, neighborhood watches to make sure that the community is also involved in keeping the community safe,” Hara noted.

He said that the children of CD9 deserve to have safe schools and safe transportation so that they can learn in a productive environment.

“I have worked extensively with the Filipino community during my time with the LAPD and I want to continue those relationships at City Hall. The Asian-American community has been incredibly supportive of my campaign because of what my background symbolizes,” Hara said.

“The City Council needs more Asian-American representation to ensure that there is a voice at the horseshoe table for the Asian community,” he added.John Choi is a Korean American Attorney, who lives in Echo Park.

Council District 13

John Choi

John Choi is a Korean American attorney from Echo Park running for CD 13.

Education: UCLA and UCLA Law School

Awards/ Recognition: Former Economic Development Director of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO; Board of Public Work commissioner,

Top Priorities:

– Economic development

– Improving Quality of Life

– Immigration

Choi said his experiences on the Public Works Commission and working for the LA Federation of Labor provide the right perspective and experience to represent the diverse 13th district.

He believes in creating “a sustainable livable Los Angeles” committing to building out more public transit and creating jobs.

“I am running for office, because I think we need a new generation and a diversity of leadership,” he said. “For far too long, politicians have held positions that are not in sync with many positions of the population as a whole. I hope to be an elected leader that not only listens to the people voice, but hopefully lead the city forward on a progressive agenda that include more inclusive policies moving forward.”

As an Asian American candidate, he believes the LA City Council should “look like the city it represents.”

“Here in the 13th District we have a real chance to elect an API representative and this might be the only chance we have for many years,” he said. “I am the only API candidate that can draw support from all communities, White, API, Latino, African American, so I think it’s extremely important that the greater API Community rally behind the best chance to elect the City Council’s only Asian member, and I know I am that candidate.”

Emile Mack

Emile Mack is Korean American, veteran commander of the Los Angeles Fire Department’s South Division.

Education: UCLA (attended three years before leaving to pursue career in LAFD); Harvard University – Senior Executives in State and Local Government (3 week program); and Loyola Marymount Martin Gang Institute – Intergroup Relations (10 week program).

Awards/ Recognition: Spirit of Los Angeles award, given to a community leader who best embodies the spirit and determination of Angelenos.

Top Three Priorities:

– Economic development

– Public safety

– Improve quality of life

Mack may have one of the most unique stories you’ve ever encountered. Born in South Korea, he was given up for adoption at the age of three. An African American family adopted little Emile and raised him in the Atwater area.

Mack said his unique background allows him to intermingle with the community freely, a possible advantage given the different ethnic make up that is CD13.

Mack said his first and main priority is economic development. His plan is to bring businesses into the district, which he describes, will in turn create jobs and economic opportunities for the residents, and provide much needed tax dollars/ revenues for the city.

“Until we fix our economic problems, people won’t be able to support themselves and their family, and the city would not be able to provide the essential services to make them safe,” he said.

As a 34-year veteran of the LAFD, Mack believes in creating a partnership with community members and law enforcement.

He also says building parks in the district will help improve the quality of life for residents.

“Families can go there and bring their kids,” he said. “Parks are a natural place, a place where we can create programs for the youth.”

Overall, he said he’s the most qualified of all the candidates because “I’ve dedicated my life to serving the residents of this city.”

“I have the qualifications. Everyday I make life and death decisions. I’ve managed a half a billion-dollar budget and never overspent,” he said. “I know how to make difficult decisions and no other candidate has led during a time of crisis. I’m the guy they [the city] bring in during a time of crisis. It’s this kind of leadership and experience that I have over the candidates. They wouldn’t give that responsibility to anyone. I can deliver. I have the ability to get the job done, the relationships, leadership and experience to lead the district.”

Alex De Ocampo

Alexander Cruz De Ocampo is a Filipino-American candidate running CD13. De Ocampo is a director for a charitable foundation.

Education: California State University, Northridge

Awards/ Recognition: Former district representative for the Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council, and former president of the California Young Democrats.

Top Three Priorities:

– Creating Middle Class Jobs

– Maintaining safe neighborhoods

– Providing Efficient City Services

De Ocampo has recently been the subject of allegations that he is an “outsider” who does not have any roots to the district, and that his campaign is backed by a special interest.

In a phone interview, De Ocampo was quick to point out that he was born and raised in the district.

“I’m born and raised in the district. I was literally born in Kaiser Permanente Hospital on Sunset and Vermont,” he said.

He went on to point out that growing up, he went to attend local schools like Lockwood Elementary School, Thomas Starr King Middle School, John Marshall High School – all schools that are within the community.

De Ocampo clarified that he has deep roots in the district, having been born and raised near Historic Filipinotown, and having numerous relatives residing within the community.

“I’ve been here, and I’m here to stay to provide the leadership that is needed to make sure that the residents of this district thrive,” De Ocampo added.

On the issue of special interests backing his campaign, De Ocampo was quick to point out that he is ‘completely independent’ and is ‘not beholden to anyone.’

“The reality is I have over 500 unique donors, and my average contribution is $250. That just shows that there’s an array of support, especially from individuals here in Los Angeles, and that also makes me not beholden to anyone,” he explained.

De Ocampo’s top three platforms include creating middle class jobs, maintaining safe neighborhoods, and providing efficient city services.

His plan of action involves prioritizing the promotion of middle-class jobs by taking advantage of LA’s vast resources and preserving its key industries, and eliminating the gross receipts tax. In neighborhood safety, De Ocampo is pushing for sufficient funding and support on law enforcement, and cooperation with communities to stop criminal activity. According to De Ocampo, improving infrastructure and supporting public safety are important in keeping LA as a world-class city.

“It will be an exciting time for us to elect the first ever Filipino American to the LA City Council. I will make sure our communities voice is heard, our concerns addressed, and that we have a seat at the table of City Hall,” De Ocampo said.

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