AsianWeek Interviews With San Francisco’s Mayoral Candidates: Jeff Adachi

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With Asian Americans comprising approximately one-third of the city’s population, the next mayor of San Francisco should have plans to address issues relevant to this robust community.

To ensure that they do, has invited all of the 16 mayoral candidates–including six well qualified and prominent Asian Americans: Mayor Ed Lee, California State Senator Leland Yee, Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, President of the Board of Supervisors David Chiu, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, Wilma Pang a longtime community activist and college professor–to share with our readers their solutions to what they deem the most prevalent problems in the Asian American community.

Beginning Oct. 24th, 2011 and leading up to the Nov. 8th election, will be highlighting a different mayoral candidate.

Featured in this installment is Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

1. What is (are) the greatest health issue(s) facing Asian American Pacific Islanders (APIs) and what will you do as mayor to address it (them)?

APIs in particular suffer disproportionately high rates of cervical cancer, stomach cancer,

hepatitis B, and many other serious health impairments. In addition, high rates of uninsurance, and limited English proficiency compound the obstacles our communities face in preventing illness and accessing medical services. San Francisco has the highest liver cancer rate among all counties in the nation and comparatively, APIs have a disproportionately high percentage of Hep B infection. Many Asians are infected at birth or during early childhood and are unaware of their infection due to lack of symptoms and potentially normal blood tests for liver function. APIs account for the largest proportion of all chronic Hepatitis B cases in California, with the majority of cases in immigrant populations.

I applaud the San Francisco Hep B Free Campaign and Asian Liver Center at Stanford for raising awareness specifically in the API community and their efforts at encouraging testing and vaccinations. Citywide, we need to ensure that language does not continue to be a barrier to awareness of health issues or a barrier to knowledge and use of free or low-cost health services. Literature, public service announcements, and health care workers should be available in all API languages. Since July 1, 1999, all California students entering the 7th grade are required to be immunized against Hepatitis B. I will ensure that outreach, screening, and vaccination of APIs will continue in order to protect San Francisco’s population against this infectious disease.

There has been a lack of adequate attention from City Hall. Recently, the San Francisco Department of Public Health released its local HIV Prevention Plan, omitting Asian & Pacific Islander communities from the comprehensive system of HIV prevention because there is no data to suggest that HIV is a ‘problem’ in Asian & Pacific Islander communities. As Mayor I would require the San Francisco Department of Public Health to collect data from all communities and ensure that they are adequately funded to do so. I would also help establish community collaborative to encourage API communities to overcome our cultural resistance to discuss and be tested for HIV and other STDs. Not only HIV but many other health issues are related to sexual health and women’s health – topics that have notoriously been taboo in our cultures.

We need to ensure that API women are aware of preventative measures against breast and cervical cancer. Though difficult because of the cultural hesitance, outreach must be done to encourage annual breast and mammography exams, to improve the early detection of breast cancer, and increase awareness of and access to HPV vaccines. One of the global reasons that our API community is medically underserved is because of a lack of insurance. Without insurance, it is far more difficult for APIs to access preventative and routine care. As mayor, I would be in favor of a single-payer health plan to help increase insurance coverage and reduce medical costs.

2. Why should Asian American voters choose you as their next mayor?

As a Japanese-American, I don’t believe it is enough for Asian-American voters to choose a candidate only because he or she can relate to the culture and background of San Francisco’s API community.  The community’s choice for Mayor not only needs to understand our history as the subject of discrimination, marginalization, and stereotyping, but should also have a demonstrated record of fighting against these wrongs.

For my entire career, I have stood up for the rights of the marginalized and minority populations; I’ve spent over 22 years representing poor and working people as a Public Defender. Most of the clients we represent are disenfranchised from society due to poverty, gender, and race.  I know what it means to struggle and to fight to be heard because I have spent my career doing it.

So often in the media, Asians are portrayed as either weak or “model minorities” while the priorities that our communities care about are set aside or underfunded.  I have consistently tried to give Asian-Americans a voice and to fight back against racial and cultural stereotypes. I’ve confronted these stereotypes in “The Slanted Screen” and “The Jack Soo Story,” movies I directed and successfully aired on PBS.  My first film, “The Slanted Screen” specifically explored stereotyping of Asian American male actors.

As Public Defender, I’ve taken on difficult issues, including pension reform, not because it is easy or popular, but because it is right and necessary.  The money we save with pension reform will mean more summer school spots for our kids and better funding for our schools and teachers. To the Asian-American community, I will be a Mayor who is anything but weak or timid and I will be willing to take on the tough issues in order to protect our priorities.

3. What type of relationships do you have with San Francisco’s Asian-American community?

I am proud of my family’s long history in San Francisco’s Asian-American community.  My grandparents settled in Bernal Heights from Hawaii in the 1890s. I returned to the City from Sacramento to attend law school in 1982 and I’ve stayed here ever since.  I became intimately familiar with the challenges  faced by the Asian-American community when I worked on the case of Chol Soo Lee, a Korean-American who lived in San Francisco.  Mr. Lee was wrongfully convicted of murder and was on death row at San Quentin.  I volunteered on the case for seven years fighting to prove Lee’s innocence. He was eventually acquitted and released from prison.  In fact, it was my involvement in the Asian community on behalf of Mr. Lee, and my parents’ internment during World War II, that lead me to law school to become a Public Defender.

As the son of former internees, I believe I can relate and identify with the history and experience of communities who have experienced marginalization. A leader of our community must do more than just make sure that we have “representation,” he or she has to ensure that we give voice and visibility to these communities – especially communities battling prejudice on more than one front. As Public Defender, I held my office’s first ever public service forum in Chinatown – in Cantonese and Mandarin – to help the Chinese community learn about the criminal justice system and their immigration rights. When the Courts lost Judges Lenard Louie and Lilian Sing, two icons in the Chinese and Asian communities, I lobbied Governor Schwarzenegger to appoint Asian judges to their seats.

I am also active in community organizations like the Asian American Bar Association and the Japanese American Citizens League – serving terms on both boards as President. I am deeply involved in promoting Asian artist in San Francisco, serving as Chair of the Asian American Arts Foundation and the Asian American Theater Company. Additionally, I enjoy spending time at our many cultural festivals and events including the Autumn Moon Festival in Chinatown, the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japantown, and the Asian Heritage Street Celebration in the Sunset District.

4. What are some prevalent problems in SF’s Asian American community?

We need to develop more education opportunities and bring back summer school for children, as well as make transportation reliable with tangible benefits to our communities.

5. How do you plan on responding to these problems?

Education has been traditionally important to Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities. San Francisco’s rich cultural diversity is its greatest asset, and the School District’s language immersion programs are critical to offering quality language programs in the public schools. I fully support language immersion programs in the public schools and would encourage the school district to provide greater access to parents and students who want them. Developing a sense of importance and necessity for education begins at an early childhood stage, which is why I pledge, as mayor, to bring back summer school. For the first time in our City’s history, because of the fiscal crisis we are experiencing, summer school has been cancelled for 10,000 children because the School District does not have the funding of $1 Million to pay for it. I believe strongly that summer school helps students continue their learning during the summer months and also keeps young people off the streets and engaged in positive activities. Studies demonstrate that children from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to face greater academic challenges than children from middle-class backgrounds. Similarly, immigrant children and children of immigrants face greater challenges in educational achievement. Not only does early education help bridge language barriers, it also empowers our API youth to advance in their careers in adulthood.

As to transportation, there are many MUNI lines which currently underserve our API neighborhoods. Rather than blindly continuing to throw money at the Central Subway, as mayor, I would call for a hearing on the Central Subway project in order to, first, review the issues identified in the grand jury report. This review should include potential redesigns of the project, or, if it’s the right thing to do, scrap the project altogether in favor of using existing SFMTA infrastructure to improve transit along the Chinatown-Financial District corridor. I will not have ordinary taxpayers pay for the special interests that would profit from this project and will move it forward only if the plan’s benefits to traffic flow in the City outweigh the budgetary burden and long-term maintenance and infrastructure costs of maintaining the Central Subway. Improving the frequency and reliability of the N-Judah and L-Taraval lines the Sunset, the 38 and 1 lines in the Richmond, the 9 that serves the Excelsior, and the 30/45 lines that serve Grant Street/Chinatown would greatly improve access that our API community has to other neighborhoods in our city, and their high ridership numbers on these lines have been time-tested so we know these improvement would be greatly utilized by our communities. The original projected ridership of the Central Subway was estimated at 90,000, but has substantially decreased to 30,000, with no explanation. These lines provide necessary access to schools, jobs, and basics such as grocery stores for our Asian-American communities. I do not believe that the current projected route of the Central Subway would actually help ease the transportation burden on our Asian-American communities. As Mayor, I would investigate the recommendations made by the SF Civil Grand Jury, which concluded that the Central Subway needs to reevaluated in light of the huge cost increases that are now coming to light for the first time. Originally projected in 2003 to cost approximately $650 million, the price tag has now escalated to a projected $1.6 billion, with the City on the hook for any potential cost overruns. Furthermore, the project does not link the new line to existing MUNI and BART lines, it ignores service to the Financial District, and ignores current 2011 transportation trends which virtually guarantee that it will be outdated by the time it opens several years from now.

I am the only candidate with a plan to obtain the funds needed to execute these solutions. Retirement salaries are one of the greatest escalating costs facing our City. Since 2005, these costs have skyrocketed from $125 to $400 million a year. The real shocker, however, is that these costs will increase to $800 million annually in 4 years. Proposition D, if approved, will be the largest fiscal austerity measure ever passed in our City. It will save citizens over $1.7 billion over the next ten years. It will enable the City to utilize some of the savings to prevent further cuts and even restore important City services. I am the only mayoral candidate who is genuinely trying to reprioritize the way that we allocate precious taxpayer dollars. As mayor, I will plan our city budget based on actual numbers and data for quantitative improvements; I will not make decisions based on endorsements, power brokers, or special interests.




About the Author

David Ka Wai Pan is your typical Asian American, confused about his identity but determined to learn more about it. How? By writing and posting articles here at AsianWeek.