The Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership (capal.org), founded here in Washington in 1989 to encourage Asian Pacific American participation in government, has helped almost two decades’ worth of summer interns to learn how government works.
Among the scholarships offered to bright young APAs when they work in a congressional office or federal agency is the Senator Paul Simon Scholarship. There is a reason that Sen. Simon’s name graces a scholarship for up-and-coming APA community leaders. Simon was a newspaper publisher and good government advocate, who served as a Democratic representative and then United States senator from Illinois in a career that spanned 32 years.
Born to parents who were missionaries to China, he had a special understanding of and concern for the Asian Pacific American community. He hired APA staff and championed issues of concern to the APA community. A strong advocate of both fiscal and social responsibility, he was an early advocate of balanced federal budgets as well as civil rights for APAs and all people.
I thought of Sen. Simon recently when I attended a conference in Chicago and met several alumni of his congressional offices, including his Chicago Director Nancy Chen, who now serves as co-chair of Sen. Obama’s APIA National Leadership Council.
One Asian Pacific American who distinguished himself on Sen. Simon’s staff is now poised to bring Sen. Simon’s approach to good government to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. David Chiu, the son of Chinese immigrant parents, went on to earn undergraduate, law and public policy degrees from Harvard. He is now running for a seat as District 3 representative to the board, an area that includes North Beach, Chinatown and other communities in the northeast corner of the city.
If Chiu wins on November 4, it will be the first time that San Francisco’s Chinatown has been represented by a Chinese American. Other APAs have served on the Board of Supervisors from other districts and in at-large capacities, but one of the oldest and most widely recognized APA communities in the nation has never been represented by a Chinese American supervisor.
Looking at his campaign Web site (votedavidchiu.org), Chiu is clearly immersed in the issues that affect San Francisco and especially his neighbors in District 3. He currently serves as the chair of a neighborhood association and as a San Francisco small business commissioner.
He also founded an award-winning, nationally recognized technology company, Grassroots Enterprise, after working as a criminal prosecutor in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and as a civil rights attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. In his spare time, he has served as a local Democratic Party activist, as the board chair of nonprofit organizations dedicated to affordable housing and youth leadership, and as president of the largest local Asian American bar association in the country.
For some of us on the East Coast, however, we knew that David was destined to follow in the honorable public service tradition of Paul Simon 20 years ago. I personally remember speaking at a conference bridging diverse ethnic communities that David organized when he was a sophomore at Harvard in 1988.
After earning his law degree and moving to Washington, I remember meeting David again at events that he helped to organize for CAPAL. In fact, he was on the committee that set up the Paul Simon scholarship.
David served as Democratic counsel for Sen. Simon on the Senate Judiciary Committee in the mid-1990s, when Sen. Simon was a powerful voice for socially progressive and fiscally responsible policies in Washington. Sen. Simon, with David’s counsel, could be counted on for opposition to the gun lobby, the death penalty and unfair laws such as the Defense of Marriage Act.
Chiu also served as Sen. Simon’s budget aide, and was responsible for crafting a balanced federal budget plan that significantly increased health care, social services and education spending, while cutting back on waste in the Pentagon budget. During an era of budget deficits, Simon’s balanced budget proposal became a blueprint for subsequent Clinton White House budgets that led to huge budget surpluses when Clinton left office in 2000.
I live in Maryland, so I cannot vote for David Chiu for supervisor on November 4. But given all that I have seen of this promising public servant over two decades, I hope that the citizens of District 3 give him a chance to bring his socially progressive and fiscally responsible views to the Board of Supervisors on November 4.
District 3 Candidates For Supervisor Debate