Adapted from original published with permission from Rappler
SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – In a stunning victory in the midterm elections, Filipino Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area broke the racial barrier by winning seats in towns long coveted but never claimed by their own.
In South San Francisco, first-time candidates Flor Nicolas and Mark Nagales are poised to become the newest members of the City Council, defeating an incumbent.
Across the Bay in Oakland, worker rights advocate Nikki Fortunato Bas placed first in the contest for District 2 of the City Council, also booting out the incumbent.
Fortunato Bas took 4,049 votes or 51.04 percent of precinct votes. The 25-year community organizer’s platform prioritized housing, a critical issue among Filipino Americans. Starting her advocacy as a champion for immigrant garment workers “cheated out of their wages by a fancy dress maker,” Fortunato Bas fought to raise minimum wage in Oakland and worked to reduce diesel emissions for healthier environment
At presstime Nicolas and Nagales both garnered 18 percent of the vote, trailing a longtime Council member to claim 3 of the 5 seats occupied by a Japanese American and another Caucasian. Vote by mail ballots were yet to be counted, with final results to be announced Nov.19, according to the San Mateo County Assessor – County Clerk – Recorder & Elections Office. With votes from all 29 precincts in as of Nov. 7, Nicolas received 3,067 and Nagales got 3,026 votes.
Before Nov. 6, 2018, South San Francisco with a nearly 17% Filipino population by city estimates, had been elusive to Filipino political aspirants, unlike its neighbors to the north, Daly City, which has had four Council Members, and Colma, home to two FilAm women Council members.
“What a first for South San Francisco: Two Filipinos unseat an incumbent,” remarked Joanne del Rosario, current Vice Mayor of Colma, who ran unopposed and topped her own race. Del Rosario bested fellow Council Member Helen Fisicaro, seniormost on the body governing the “City of Souls,” the town that grew from several cemeteries.
Del Rosario collected 119 or 50.6% to her peer’s 116 or 49.4 percent.
Unsurprisingly, Quezon City-born State Assembly Member Rob Bonta raked in 87% or 59,953 votes to keep his District 18 office representing Oakland, San Leandro and Alameda. He is the first and still the only FilAm elected the California State Legislature and the highest ranking FilAm legislator*. (*Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, is the highest ranking sitting elected FilAm official to date in the state and across the United States.)
In Alameda, urban planner Tony Daysog returns to the City Council where he served for 14 years. He took 5,989 or 23.95% of votes in the island town, birthplace of Bonta’s political career.
In the Contra Costa town of El Cerrito, incumbent and current Mayor Gabriel Quinto placed first with 4,729 or 50.90% of votes. Quinto, the first known openly gay FilAm elected to the City Council in the San Francisco Bay Area, served on the Committee on Aging and the Human Relations Commission of his town before winning his first term on the City Council in 2014.
Seasoned Union City Council Member Pat Gacoscos defended her post, winning 2,777 votes or 13.65% in the Filipino American stronghold. A former teacher, Gacoscos was elected to the New Haven Unified School District and the Union Sanitary District before winning a seat on the City Council in 2010.
In Daly City, current Vice Mayor Ray Buenaventura and now the elder statesman on the City Council, decisively protected his seat by racking up the biggest number of 6,051 votes or 31.4%. Ethnic Studies professor and community advocate Rod Daus-Magbual had aimed to be the fourth FilAm on the City Council of Daly City along with his running mate Buenaventura. At press time, Daus-Magbual had 4,608 votes or 40 votes behind the third-placer contending for three seats.
In the same city, Jefferson Elementary School District Trustee Maybelle Manio, who was appointed to the post, won her race with 4,106 votes or 26.5% to continue to “advocate for and support programs that increase student achievement,” among the board of education goals.
Republican solar energy businesswoman Cristina Osmena, who challenged incumbent Democrat Jackie Speier to represent the 14th Congressional District, garnered 18,889 or 24.9% against the incumbent’s 56,831 or 75.1%.
Management consultant Christina Laskowski, also a FilAm and Republican, ran against incumbent State Assembly Member Kevin Mullin for the 22nd District, concluded her contest with 17,100 or 27.2% behind Mullin’s 45,755 or 72. 8%.
The prospect of serving alongside another Filipino American elated Nagales.
“In a city where the Asian population is 37% with Filipinos in the majority, having two FilAms would be amazing because we never had a Filipino on the city council,” Nagales told this writer. “To have two (FilAms on the Council) shows the strength of the Filipino community. It shows the work of leaders like Tita Alice Bulos who paved the way for many of us. I think she would proud to see what’s happening.”
Bulos was the South San Francisco resident and the legendary community organizer whose battlecry was “Reach out to the community toward empowerment.” She died in October 2016.
The two FilAm victors have a similar vision for their home city, prioritizing affordable housing and enhanced city services.
Calling herself a “proud mother, grandmother and businesswoman,” Nicolas notes that the next generation needs “to see women and men serving side by side to reinforce the value of respect and recognize that all have an equal opportunity to lead and serve.”
“I attribute my election to my strong ties with the community, volunteer work and City-appointed positions,” the Santo Tomas, Batangas, native told Rappler. “‘My husband’s Masonic brothers and the Knights of Columbus also helped a lot.”
Drawing from his 10-year employment as Constituent Services Director at the Office of U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Nagales vows to continue working “tirelessly to help seniors, veterans, families and children access valuable services.”
Both born in the Philippines, Nicolas and Nagales represent several demographics.
Baby Boomer Nicolas is a biotech executive and Millennial Nagales is the new outreach coordinator for a fair housing nonprofit since leaving Speier’s office to start his political campaign.
What both have in common is passion for service.
As triple-decade residents of the once self-proclaimed “Industrial City” that now touts itself as the “Birthplace of Biotechnology,” Nicolas and Nagales have been volunteers at various city departments.
Nicolas is a commissioner of the South San Francisco Conference Center Authority Board. Earlier she had served as Commissioner with Historic Preservation Commission and Housing Authority. Nagales is current chair of the SSF Planning Commission and was member of the SSF Parks & Recreation Commission, where he also served as chair.
Nicolas, an active parishioner of Mater Dolorosa Church, holds a chemical engineering degree from Mapua Institute of Technology and a Master of Public Health from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Nagales is a former president of the Filipino American Democratic Club of San Mateo County who graduated with a double major in History and Political Science from San Francisco State University.