COLMA, Calif. – The elections are not for another month and yet Joanne del Rosario has already clinched a fourth term as member of the Colma Town Council.
Current Vice Mayor Del Rosario and fellow incumbent Council Member Helen Fisicaro are the lone candidates for the 2 open seats on the Nov. 6 ballot in the northern tip San Mateo County. With 36 years of service between them, 7-time Mayor Fisicaro and 2-time Mayor del Rosario make formidable opponents.
Fact is del Rosario almost concluded her public service at the end of her third term this year.
“This will my 2nd time to run unopposed,” the New York native educated in Manila and the U.S. explained her decision to Philippine News. In July she turned 65, when many of her contemporaries have retreated from the daily grind, taking time for their loved ones, for themselves. “I thought about not running again, but there were a lot of people who convinced me to stay on because they believed I was doing a good job. I searched for the answer and there were enough people who made me realize, perhaps, it’s not yet time to retire.”
Colma’s new City Hall may have factored. Its formal inauguration is scheduled for Dec. 4, when the town reorganizes with a new mayor, traditionally the current vice mayor. For del Rosario to be the first mayor sworn in at the new facility would be serendipity because she held the post in 2013, when talk of remodel first emerged before the council.
“Initially, the matter before us was to only bring the Council Chambers up to code with regards to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance. When discussion happened, we all voted to do just the ADA compliance. The next day, I was not comfortable with the decision that was made,” del Rosario related.
“I asked the City Attorney if we could bring the motion back and perhaps argue what I believe was the better decision. We had never done that before. I was able to convince the Council that we should look at the entire remodel of City Hall, which was not yet part of our capital plan. Once you start touching things on a 90-year old building, you’ll never know what you’ll find. Thus, the remodel began. I was mayor in 2013 when we first decided to move forward, and I was the mayor when we broke ground in 2015. It has certainly been a long road, but as you can see, it was well worth the wait,” she said of the “biggest undertaking that we took on as a Council during my tenure.”
Since planting her roots in 2001 in the once-quiet little town bordered by Daly City, Brisbane and South San Francisco, del Rosario has surprised even herself with her accomplishments. Shortly after settling in, she was elected president of the Colma Filipino American Association that urged her to run for the town council. The first-time candidate won by a handful votes and shortly after became the first FilAm woman to take the title of Mayor in any of the 9 counties in the San Francisco Bay Area. A feat, beyond doubt.
Then and now the political climate has changed, she conceded. But the road to success remains the same: “Listen to your constituents and be true to what you believe in,” she would say to new aspirants. “The decisions you make may not always be popular. If you can close your eyes and know that you did the right thing and didn’t step on anyone’s toes in the process, you’ve won half the battle.”
Not that she had it all figured out when she first filed for candidacy minus experience and a campaign plan 12 years ago or prior.
“I wasn’t really an achiever in school, remember,” she nudged a former classmate from what was then named Maryknoll (now Miriam), a liberal college founded by progressive American nuns.
College ended abruptly after sophomore year when del Rosario eloped with the boyfriend who could not get her parents’ approval. They were married for 13 years that brought her greatest joy with the birth of her son, giving hope her domestic issues would pass.
Returning to New York, the youngest daughter of privilege got certified as an executive assistant, took two jobs, kept house, and mothered her child. She took duty to heart, aching to make hers an ideal home by being perfect at everything.
She knows better now.
Her life started over with her move to Colma. By then she had left her first marriage and found love in Rene Malimban, in whom she felt safe, respected, and encouraged to grow.
A reunion with a former classmate organizing a domestic violence event in 2007 sparked an epiphany. She had never told anyone of her experience that she learned only then could help others find their voices and their freedom: She was ready to share.
Long before #metoo and Time’s Up, del Rosario stood before strangers to remind them that anyone can end up in an abusive relationship if they get involved with someone who is abusive. No education, wealth or power immunizes anyone who does not recognize signs for abusive behavior from walking into conflict.
“Survivors keep their situation secret for fear of being blamed for their partners’ behavior. They start believing the perpetrator’s constant criticism and accusations. Their self-esteem is crushed,” del Rosario took a page from her own story.
In 2010, the Kumares & Kumpares or members of the all-volunteer nonprofit ALLICE Alliance for Community Empowerment elected her president. She drew from her influential network to engage Seton Medical Center, Lucky Chances and Moonstar to sponsor the nonprofit’s twice yearly events to promote healthy interaction. Her advocacy has resulted in the first Intimate Partner Violence Workshop commissioned by a town when Colma invited ALLICE clinical director and then- Equity & Diversity program director for the San Mateo County Behavioral Health & Recovery Services Dr. Jei Africa to facilitate.
“Joanne has raised the bar for commitment to our mission the same way she elevates public service,” said ALLICE founding president Bettina Santos Yap.
Once again, Colma is collaborating with ALLICE to stage the team’s 14th annual Free From Violence Presentation and Resource Fair 5-7:30 pm, Friday, Oct. 12, at the Colma Community Center in collaboration with the Philippine Consulate General and AARS Healthright 360.
Philippine News, Philippines Today, Positively Filipino, Inquirer.net, Holy Child & St. Martin Episcopal Church, Lucky Chances, Moonstar, Cafe Savini, Noah’s Bagels, Hapag Filipino, Kuya’s Asian Cuisine, Guy Guerrero, Ray Satorre, Francis Espiritu, Kumare Elsa Agasid, Baby & Boy Pastries, Kumare Ofie Albrecht, Bernard Simon Jr., Becca Schatz, Joaquin & Matias Moreno are donating resources to stage the event free and open to the public.
“Knowing where to get help is key,” said del Rosario, a recipient of District 5 Supervisor David Canepa’s 2018 Outstanding Citizens for her efforts to prevent intimate partnership violence. “That is why ALLICE invites resource providers to our events. We collaborate with every sector of the community to support one another. That’s the heart of our mission.”
Who would challenge her record?
PNews Editor at Large Cherie Querol Moreno is founder-executive director of ALLICE. For information visit www.allicekumares.com.