Does it make sense for cities spend money on lobbyists?
– Gautam Dutta
Does it make sense for cities spend money on lobbyists?
– Gautam Dutta
Houston’s Madam Mayor Annise D. “The Batman” Parker was the guest on last night’s Colbert Report.
In introducing Parker, Colbert joked
She, however, passed through Colbert Nation on her way to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in nearby Philadelphia. I take that to mean The Colbert Report had its choice of mayors and Parker came out on top.
What does Houston have going for it?
We’re a foodie town, we’re an arts town, we’re a sports town, a theater town, anything you want in a big city you have in Houston, plus we have a good quality of life, we’re affordable and we have jobs.
Yep. An arts town and a theater town. She neglected to mention one of the best restaurants in the country is a nice walk from her house.
Colbert also mocked Houston when noting Parker would be his guest:
I’ll ask her how she broke it to her parents that she wanted to live in Houston
While people enjoy or at least make the best of living in Houston for the above things, they live in Houston for the jobs.
That’s right. Johnson Space Center is still going strong.
When Colbert asked how it’s possible that Parker is the first openly gay mayor of a major American city — insulting Portland, Oregon and ignoring that Houston is one of the largest cities in the world to accomplish such a feat. Parker wisely noted Houston elected her six times before electing her mayor and explained
Houston is very tolerant of a lot of things; they want to know what you can do, not who you are or where you’re from.
Admittedly, I was disappointed Parker failed to mention Houston is the most diverse big city in America.
Watch the full interview:
Only time will tell what the Colbert Bump will mean for Mayor Parker.
- Justin Gillenwater
Should judges be elected? While federal judges are appointed (and enjoy lifetime tenure), a number of states (like Texas and California) force judges to either run for election (to join the bench) or for a “retention election” (to stay on the bench).
No system is perfect. While appointing judges has its flaws, it at least allows for a candidate’s credentials to be scrutinized by several committees — both before and after he or she has been nominated.
But what if judges are elected? Does the normal voter like you or me have the ability or time to examine the credentials of a dozen (or sometimes more) judicial candidates? And since judicial candidates can’t campaign like other candidates (after all, they are not allowed to make promises on how they will rule), does that give candidates with a more mainstream-sounding name an unfair advantage?
Take the case of Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Sanjay Kumar, an outstanding jurist who has not only excelled as a trial judge, but has been repeatedly invited to “pinch hit” for the California Court of Appeal.
Next month, Judge Kumar (who has been endorsed by the Los Angeles Times) must win a retention election to keep his job, and one other candidate seeks his seat. As it turns out, his opponent (Kim Smith) was rated “not qualified” when he last ran for judge two years back. But that brings up two problems. First, voters might not be aware of Smith’s lack of credentials. Furthermore, they may be reluctant for someone with a “foreign sounding” name.
To be sure, candidates have been elected with “funny names” (see Barack Obama). However, judicial elections are quite a different ball of wax — because hardly any voters have heard of any of the candidates. Making matters even more difficult, LA County judicial candidates must reach 4 million voters — an extremely expensive proposition.
There are no easy answers to this problem. Personally, I would favor (1) giving state judges longer terms, and (2) giving the Legislature and the Governor limited authority not to renew a judge’s term — but only if a judge has acted unprofessionally or abused his or her power.
Meanwhile, AAA-Fund of California strongly endorses Sanjay Kumar for Los Angeles Superior Court. If you live in Los Angeles County, please vote for him on June 5.
– Gautam Dutta
The AAA-Fund is a signatory to the “Organizations Condemn Councilmember Marion Barry’s Statements Regarding Asian Businesses (April 5, 2011):
Organizations Condemn Councilmember Marion Barry’s Statements Regarding Asian Businesses (April 5, 2011)
by Public Demands Marion Barry Apologize to APA Community on Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 8:51pm ·
As members of local and national organizations committed to advancing and protecting the rights of individuals of Asian and Pacific Islander descent in the United States, the undersigned organizations condemn District of Columbia Councilmember Marion Barry’s recent remarks regarding Asian-owned businesses at a campaign event in Washington, DC. On April 3, at his Ward 8 primary election victory party, Councilmember Barry made the following statement, “We got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops … They ought to go. I’m going to say that right now.” Given Councilmember Barry’s previous commitment to civil rights, we are particularly disappointed by these comments. While Councilmember Barry has recently indicated that he was “sorry for offending the Asian community,” we call upon him to provide a sincere apology and ensure meaningful engagement with our communities to improve the well-being of all individuals in the District.
Councilmember Barry’s statement is of serious concern because it undermines the notion that developing the District of Columbia’s economy and neighborhoods is in the interest of all communities, regardless of national origin or ethnic background. Numerous institutions, from small businesses to non-profit organizations, as well as individuals, provide vital services and job opportunities, contribute their tax dollars, and engage in civic and political life within the city. Within the District of Columbia, according to 2007 data, Asians own 5.9% of businesses, joining other communities in strengthening the economy. Rather than acknowledging and appreciating the contributions that Asian businesses, alongside other racial and ethnic communities, have made to the city, Councilmember Barry’s remarks appear to fan the flames of racial divisions and imply that Asian Americans are not invested in developing a robust economy that benefits all residents.
Our organizations are also extremely concerned that remarks such as these can perpetuate stereotypes of Asians taking jobs away from other Americans, which can fuel racism and animosity towards community members. In fact, individuals of Asian descent are frequently blamed for the economic woes that this country has faced when perceptions are fostered that our community is thriving in this economy at the expense of other minority communities with whom we work and live alongside.
In light of these concerns, we call upon Councilmember Barry to provide a meaningful apology and officially retract his statement; refrain from engaging in harmful rhetoric regarding Asian and other immigrant communities; and develop meaningful relationships with our communities in the District of Columbia to understand the contributions and challenges of community members. Our organizations also view this as a prime opportunity to work with Mayor Vincent Gray and Councilmembers on the “One City, One Future” initiative. We look forward to proactively identifying next steps that we can take together to continue to create more diverse and growing economy for all residents.
Local Endorsing Organizations
Asian American LEAD (AALEAD)
Asian Pacific American Bar Association of the Greater Washington DC Area
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance – DC Chapter (APALA-DC)
Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center (APALRC)
Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Co
DC Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Caucus
Korean American Drycleaners Association
Korean American Grocers Association of Greater Washington DC (KAGRO-DC)
Many Languages One Voice
National Organization of Vietnamese American Leaders of Greater Washington DC
Network of South Asian Professionals (NetSAP DC)
South Asian American Bar Association – DC (SABA-DC)
Washington Area Liquor Retailers Association (WALRA)
National Endorsing Organizations
Asian American Action Fund
Asian American Justice Center, Member of Asian American Center for Advancing Justice
Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS)
Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF)
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA)
Council of Korean Americans
Japanese American Citizens League (JACL)
National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC)
National Asian Pacific American Center on Aging (NAPCA)
National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse (NAPAFASA)
National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF)
National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD)
Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Southeast Asia Action Resource Center (SEARAC)
For further information or inquiries, contact Sapna Pandya, Executive Director of Many Languages One Voice at or 202-621-0001.
Join their Facebook Page to get updates on this coordinated campaign and for more on the story.
Ed. Note: This op-ed was first published by New America Media.
New America Media, Commentary, Gautam Dutta, Posted: Nov 30, 2011
A few weeks ago, Ed Lee became the first Asian American to be elected mayor of San Francisco. His victory, and that of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan in January, caps a remarkable eight years in which Asian American political power in the Bay Area has grown from being barely a blip on the radar to the equivalent of a major seismic event.
Certainly this success story is grounded in the Asian American community doing the hard work of registering voters, mobilizing supporters, raising money and cultivating strong candidates. The Asian American community has paid its dues.
But its success has also arrived hand in glove with the use of ranked choice voting (RCV), which allows voters to rank their top three favorite candidates in order of preference. The Asian American community benefited from ranked choice ballots, which helped prevent vote splitting among voters and candidates, and by building successful coalitions among voters across the city.
Consider that before San Francisco’s first RCV elections in 2004, it had six citywide offices and eleven members of the Board of Supervisors, all elected with the old two-round runoff system that resulted in candidates winning during traditionally low-turnout December elections. Lee, in contrast, won decisively with a higher voter turnout than in any mayoral election in the 22 largest U.S. cities.
Additionally, under the previous system, a total of only three Asian Americans were elected to those 17 offices, including only one to the Board of Supervisors. Two Asian American incumbents — Mabel Teng and Michael Yaki — lost close December runoffs in 2000 after leading comfortably in the first round in November. Not coincidentally, voter turnout plummeted by 40 percent in that December runoff, with the victors garnering fewer votes than Yaki and Teng had in November.
That was all too common in December runoff elections: not only did overall voter turnout shrink, it plummeted among minorities and young people. The December electorate was overwhelmingly white, older and more conservative than San Francisco as a whole. In addition, with multiple Asian American candidates competing for a single vote, the result was often that they would bump each other off.
Since RCV came into the picture, Asian Americans have had stunning electoral success. After Ranked Choice Voting was introduced, Asian American representation more than doubled, from 3 out of 17 seats to 7 out of 17 seats for citywide offices and Board of Supervisors. Alongside Mayor Lee is Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting and Public Defender Jeff Adachi, as well as four Asian Americans on the Board of Supervisors, including Board President David Chiu. Four more supervisors are also from minority communities, for a total of eight out of 11 on the Board of Supervisors, or 73 percent, the highest among any major U.S. city.
RCV has played a major role in this shift toward greater minority representation by moving elections to November, when voter turnout among minority communities is at its peak, and by preventing minority candidates from splitting the vote.
This last point became clear with Mayor Lee’s victory. With five of the sixteen candidates of Asian descent, concern arose about the possibility of splitting the vote. Yet with voters turning out in record numbers, some 73 percent filled in all three slots on the ballot, while another 11 percent filled in at least two.
In a runoff count, six of the seven top candidates were eliminated, with second and third choice votes going to the remaining contenders, including Lee and second-place finisher John Avalos. In post-election simulations, however, not only did Lee defeat Avalos handily when matched one-on-one, he defeated every other candidate by lopsided margins when matched against them. Neighborhood results from around the city showed that he ran well everywhere, even beating Avalos in his own district.
Asian American voters had clearly thrown their weight behind Lee, whether as a first or second choice candidate.
Unfortunately, not everyone is welcoming this advance toward fair representation. The Chamber of Commerce and San Francisco Chronicle want to return San Francisco to the old days of December runoffs, when elections were decided amid low minority turnout and Big Money interests could use independent expenditures to pound their opponents into submission. The Chamber and Chronicle have joined with the two most conservative members of the Board of Supervisors – both white males – in introducing a bill to repeal ranked choice voting.
The opponents claim that RCV is confusing for minority voters, but if that is the case then how is it that minority communities have had such stunning electoral success using RCV? Indeed, an Asian Law Caucus exit survey in 2006 found not only did a large majority of Asian-Americans prefer RCV to December runoffs, but particularly high numbers of Asian American voters used all three of their rankings.
Certainly there are ways to improve San Francisco’s elections, including through better voter education, devising a simpler ballot and allowing voters to have more than three RCV rankings. However, two facts are now beyond question. The first is that Ranked Choice Voting has been good for San Francisco. And the second — repealing RCV would be a disaster for minority communities.
Let’s hope San Francisco remains on the right side of history.
Gautam Dutta, an election and business lawyer, is Executive Director of the Asian American Action Fund.
AAA-Fund Endorses Warren Furutani for Los Angeles City Council
LOS ANGELES, CA – The Asian American Action Fund today endorsed State Assembly Member Warren Furutani for Los Angeles City Council. Furutani is running for City Council District 15, a seat vacated by Janice Hahn. If elected, he will be the second Asian American to serve on LA City Council.
“Warren Furutani is a true champion of the people,” said Gautam Dutta, Executive Director of the AAA-Fund. “He is a proven leader and consensus builder and we are proud to endorse him for Los Angeles City Council.”
Currently, Furutani represents the 55th Assembly district of California. He is a Democrat and a fourth-generation Japanese American. Furutani was elected in a special election in 2008, when he replaced Laura Richardson.
Prior to being elected to the Assembly, Furutani served on the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees. In 1987, he became the first Asian Pacific American ever elected to the LAUSD and was the Board’s President in 1991.
To learn more about his campaign, go to http://www.warrenfurutani.com/.
The AAA-Fund is a Democratic political action committee whose goal is to increase the voice of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on every level of local, state and federal government in America. To achieve this goal, we address the chronic under-representation of Asian Pacific Americans (APAs) as campaign volunteers, campaign contributors, and candidates for political office.
This Halloween, we need your help in helping Boston get a lasting treat: helping Suzanne Lee become Boston’s first Asian American woman to serve in City Hall.
Because the election’s only a week away (Nov. 8), any help you can give will help in her in this final stretch. If you live in the Boston area, please volunteer with her campaign to knock on doors and call voters.
If you live outside Boston, please donate whatever you can (no amount is too small) to her campaign. A contribution of $10, $20, $50, or $100 will help her pay for the advertising and mailers she needs to send out to win.
With your help, Suzanne will make history next Tuesday. Thank you again for supporting AAA-Fund’s mission: to empower our community by electing outstanding leaders across the nation.
– Gautam Dutta
AAA-Fund endorses Los Angeles City Council candidate Warren Furutani. If elected, he would become the second Asian American to serve in LA City Hall. More details to follow.
– Gautam Dutta
FILE – In this Jan. 11, 2011 file photo, interim San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, left, poses with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan in San Francisco. Lee, who insists he had no political ambitions before being appointed interim mayor, said one of the first things he did after he decided to run was consult Quan about the ranked choice voting system. Her best advice was to run a positive campaign to appeal to the broadest base, ensuring he earns plenty of second and third place votes. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)
Who will win next month’s race for San Francisco Mayor? Yesterday the Associated Press ran an important story on how Ranked Choice Voting will play a key role (via Associated Press):
Some two dozen cities across the country have adopted or are considering ranked-choice as a means to curb costly runoffs and widen the candidate field, including Minneapolis, Portland, Maine, Telluride, Colo., Santa Fe, N.M., and Memphis, Tenn.
San Franciscans adopted it by proposition in 2002, hoping to save an estimated $15 million in runoff costs over 10 years.
But this is the first competitive election in which it could make a difference in the final tabulation. Former Mayor Gavin Newsom won re-election in 2007 with more than 70 percent of the vote, eliminating any need to start counting second- and third-choice votes.
Mayor Ed Lee, the city administrator who became interim mayor in January when Newsom was elected lieutenant-governor, is the frontrunner in all the polls. If he wins, Lee would become the city’s first Asian-American mayor. With the backing of two of San Francisco’s former mayors, Willie Brown and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, as well as Chinatown powerbroker Rose Pak, he is the man to beat.
Yet Lee must have 50 percent-plus-one vote to take command of the city’s spectacular beaux-arts seat of power. If he doesn’t, the ranked-choice system kicks in.
Voters are allowed to select up to three candidates for a single office. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice selections, the last-place candidate is eliminated and voters who chose that candidate have their votes transferred to their second-choice candidate — a process that repeats until one candidate receives more than 50 percent.
To win under such a system, the winning candidate needs to have both a strong core of support to bring in top rankings and a broad base of support to secure enough No. 2 and No. 3 spots.
“RCV is very empowering as it gives the voters the ultimate say as to what’s important to them: It could be ethnicity, it could be the environment or development,” said Gautam Dutta, an election lawyer who specializes in the system. “That’s extremely liberating. It puts a lot of power in the hands of the voters.”
One thing’s for sure. Asian American voters, who account for a whopping one-third of SF’s residents, will help decide this election. And a number of Asian American candidates are running for Mayor, including incumbent Ed Lee, Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, State Senator Leland Yee, and Wilma Pang.
Significantly, Ranked Choice Voting gives communities the power to decide their priorities. For example, if voters care about electing the first Asian American to the Mayor’s office, they can rank their choices accordingly.
Ranked Choice Voting not only saves cities and states millions of dollars in election costs, but gives voters much more say in who gets elected. What’s not to like?
– Gautam Dutta
We invite all to Asian American Action Fund of Greater Chicago‘s event led by our own Anita Banerji.
Asian American Action Fund of Greater Chicago Annual Fundraiser
Tuesday, October 18 · 5:30pm – 8:00pm
Hotel Allegro Chicago – A Kimpton Hotel
171 W. Randolph St
an Annual Celebration and Fundraiser
Mayor, City of Chicago
Candidates for US Congress, Illinois 8th District
Alderman, 47th Ward Chicago
2011 Otaka “Making History” Award:
Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
5:30 – 8:00 pm
** arrive no later than 5:45 pm**
171 W. Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60601
Leadership Circle $1,000+
- includes 4 VIP Reception/General Reception Tickets
Host Committee $500
- includes 2 VIP Reception/General Reception Tickets
Individual Tickets $125
- General Reception Tickets
RSVP by October 10, 2011 to: or Samantha at 312.920.0550.
Checks payable to Asian American Action Fund of Greater Chicago may be mailed c/o Ben Lumicao, Treasurer, 343 S. Dearborn, #504, Chicago IL 60604.
If you need more information, please contact us at or visit our www.aaa-fund.org/chapters/chicago.asp.