AsianWeek Interviews With San Francisco’s Mayoral Candidates: Terry Joan Baum

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

Featured in this installment is pioneer lesbian playwright Terry Joan Baum:


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

— One, the absence of affordable, comprehensive, and high quality health care for all, but especially for recently arrived immigrants. Forty-one percent of the people who are enrolled in Healthy SF are Asian-Pacific Islanders — that is the largest representation by any ethnic group in the program.  And yet the administrators of Healthy SF stress that it is NOT health insurance (in fact, if a participant needs medical care outside of  San Francisco, they must pay out of pocket for that care);
— Two, Hepatitis B, the silent infection that leads to liver disease and liver cancer. While Asian Americans make up only five percent of the national population, they make up 50 percent of those afflicted with the virus. The way to prevent this disease is through vaccination, and the way to ensure that people get vaccinated is through extensive public informationand education campaigns; and,
— Three, while I am not yet aware of any studies on the issue, empirical evidence seems to indicate that Americanized Asian American children have not been spared the epidemic in childhood obesity. It is crucial that preventive measures be taken now to educate parents, guardians, and children about healthy eating habits.

Creating a high-quality and comprehensive national single-payer health system would be the best solution to address health issues in the Asian American community, but in the absence of Democratic leadership on this issue, as a Green mayor in San Francisco I would work to expand Healthy San Francisco into a full-fledged health insurance program for all people in need, regardless of immigration status and regardless of whether they need emergency medical care when they are not in San Francisco.  As mayor I would take a high-profile role in public education efforts.  Regarding childhood obesity, I would also take a high-profile role — and also work hard create programs so that produce stores want to open up in the Bayview where there are not enough stores that sell healthy food.  I also want to create a Bureau of Agriculture to jump start the local cultivation of fresh healthy produce.  This is one of the recommendations of the Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force.

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

People should vote for me because I do not accept the status quo and the premise that we must learn to do with less from government.  The Enron scandal, extreme weather events from Hurricanes Katrina to Irene and Lee, and the global recession notwithstanding, few elected officials are responding to these wake up calls that demand change. Money is being sucked
upwards as I write into the bank accounts of the wealthy all the while austerity measures are being forced upon ordinary people from Greece to San Francisco (in the form of pension reform). The current crop of political rock stars, from President Barack Obama to Governor Rick Perry range in their rhetoric from conventional to frightening– when what is most perilous right now is the growing gap between the wealthy and the rest of us, and the failure of all us to take the helm and confront the environmental
catastrophe that looms in front of us unless we start, now, to change the way we live on the planet.

As a Green, I have every intention of governing differently.  I call my platform The Green New Deal.  A few of the ideas my Green New Deal entails are:

— Levying progressive local income taxes that weigh most heavily on San Francisco’s wealthiest (this will require some changes in state law and a local charter amendment which I will champion);
— Placing a moratorium on permitting the construction of housing for the rich;
— Implementation of CleanPowerSF so that we can start generating our own, clean and renewable energy;
— Starting an Artist Urban Renewal program such that visual and performance artists can rent empty store fronts at affordable rates.  Such an effort would enliven our commercial corridors — and make them safer;
— Vastly expanding transit, in fact ‘Transit so good you don’t need your car, transit so good you don’t want your car; and,
— The Creation of a municipal bank (again this will require changes tostate and local law) among other ideas.

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

I am friendly with some Asian Americans, but I don’t really have a relationship with the Asian American community.  I have also collaborated with Asian Americans on various projects from time to time, most recently in regard to the Central Subway.

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

There are some obvious ones that stem from language barriers, poverty, immigration status, and the fact that many children in Asian American households are living in separated families, with parents and siblings in separate countries.  Also, as I mentioned above, many Asian Americans lack access to adequate health care, and many do not have jobs that pay well. Transportation is another issue — and the planned Central Subway could very well make movement in and around The City more difficult for residents of
Chinatown than it is now.

Domestic violence is also a problem and human trafficking are also issues that Asian Americans deal with.  According to the Asian and Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence, a higher percentage of Asian Americans report domestic violence than any other ethnic group. It is very important that a network of safe houses be maintained as sanctuaries for victims of domestic abuse — and their children if any.

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

Most people immigrate for economic reasons.  Others immigrate to escape political or religious persecution.  These are international problems that need to be resolved through the global pursuit of human political, religious, and economic rights.

However, once here in San Francisco, it is very important to have programs that meet the needs of immigrants — programs must be language accessible, people must know their rights (especially that they are entitled to a minimum wage established by law), families and individuals must have safe places to live, children must have recreational and educational opportunities, and victims of domestic violence must know that they can escape.  It would be my intention to fully fund programs that provide these
kinds of services — with the caveat that I want full transparency and accountability in regard to programs that receive taxpayer money (while protecting the privacy of participants).

Virtually everyone in this country is either and immigrant or the descendant of immigrants.  We are never going to end immigration, no matter how stridently xenophobes decry it.  It is human to immigrate — let us roll out the welcome mat and make this jarring process as easy as possible.


About the Author

Tiffany Louie is an Asian American born in San Francisco, obsessed with SF Giants baseball, Hello Kitty, good food, politics, and dogs (not necessarily in that order).