Elections Round-Up, Asian-Spotting Edition

November 19, 2010

Jean Quan by Lake Merritt in Oakland, Calif. Photo courtesty of www.JeanQuanForOakland.org.

Elections happened November 2nd and it seems like there are several symbolic and historic Asian American winners. In no particular order (except with a strong West Coast/Bay Area bias):

  • We've got Jean Quan in Oakland, who'll be the first woman Asian American mayor of a major city, and the first female mayor in Oakland. Quan is a former school board and city council member. She was considered a long shot, running against former CA State Sen. Don Perata. Thanks, in part, to ranked choice/instant run-off voting, she won. (She may have won in a run-off too, but that's somewhat of a moot point now). Quan ran a grassroots campaign, with Quan and her husband coming out of a generation of Asian American activists at UC Berkeley. William Wong has a good piece about Quan and the history of Chinese and Asian Americans in civic life. (Quan holds a special place in my heart. After I was hired at the Oakland Tribune, she wrote me an email rooting for me as the only Asian American reporter there at the time).
  • Next, we've got our friend Jane Kim in San Francisco, who won a seat on the Board of Supervisors. She also got her start on the school board in SF. Kim has roots in arts and activism, as a co-founder of Locus Arts and also worked with Chinese American youth in Chinatown for many years. In other San Francisco news, since Gavin Newsom won the seat for Lt. Governor of California, San Francisco Board of Supervisor President David Chiu will be filling in as acting mayor, unless an interim mayor is selected soon (unlikely, but possible). There's a possibility that he will even continue as interim mayor, as speculated by some political columnists. 
  • We've also got Kamala Harris in California's Attorney General race. She's leading right now, but it might take a while to finish counting the votes. UPDATE: It's official. Kamala Harris will be the first African American and Indian American to be California's Attorney General.
  • In the Midwest, we have our first Bangladeshi American congressperson, Hansen Clark of Michigan, who will be a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Also in the Midwest, State Rep. Jay Goyal has been re-elected in the Ohio House of Representatives.
  • UPDATE: We forgot Tackey Chan, a state representative from MA. And, we (mistakenly) claimed Deval Patrick, who was re-elected as governor of the state, as Asian American. He is African American. (The confusion came from the fact that APAP endorsed him and most of the other candidates they endorsed are API).
  • Making our way down to the South, we've got Republican Nikki Haley (formerly known as Nimrata Randhawa), the governor-elect of South Carolina. She will be the first female governor in the state and second Indian American governor in the nation (Bobby Jindal in Louisiana is first). According to the AP, Haley's family members in India are celebrating. Haley's parents are Sikh. (To demonstrate further what a small world it is, Haley went to the same school as I and was a classmate, same year, as my sister, back when we lived in the Palmetto State).
  • Over yonder in Hawaii, we have a victory for Colleen Hanabusa, who has been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

In defeats of note:

  • We're saying bye to Rep. Joseph Cao, the first Vietnamese American Member of Congress, a Republican representing district 2 in Louisiana. And also a bye to Charles Djou in Hawaii.
And some must-read words by Jeff Chang (author of Can't Stop Won't Stop), in an interview with ColorLines editor Jamilah King: Jeff Chang: It's Bigger Than Politics, the Real Shift is Cultural.

Did we miss any? Please let us know.

* Corrected from original post, which stated that Quan would be the first Asian American mayor of a major US city. And regarding the SF mayor's role, I originally said David Chiu would be "interim" mayor, but it should've stated "acting."


Momo Chang

Senior Contributing Editor

Momo Chang is the Content Manager at the Center for Asian American Media, and freelances for magazines, online publications, and weeklies. Her writings focus on Asian American communities, communities of color, and youth culture. She is a former staff writer at the Oakland Tribune. Her stories range from uncovering working conditions in nail salons, to stories about “invisible minorities” like Tongan youth and Iu Mien farmers. She has freelances The New York Times, WIRED, and East Bay Express, among other publications.



Norman Mineta of San Jose was actually the first Asian American Mayor of a Major City. He served from 1971-1975.   Also, most demographers don't count Oakland as "major".  The cut off is 500,000.

Hi Max,

Thanks for the correction -- I updated the post to reflect that Quan will be the first woman Asian American mayor of any major US city. I think for most people, a population of 400,000 would count as a major city (but I guess it depends on who you ask!). I'd have to do some research, but I wonder who the other female Asian American mayors are, and where they're from (i.e. comparing their cities' populations to that of Oakland's). Just doing a quick scan, it seems like the female part is more significant -- a lot more male Asian Am mayors. There's Yuriko Kishimoto of Palo Alto, who is a woman, but Palo Alto is much smaller than Oakland.