Fil-Ams pursue political history in San Mateo, California

DALY CITY, USA – It should have been simple:  2016 would be the year San Mateo County Filipino Americans finally would have one of their own elected to the County Board of Supervisors.  The board governs almost 400,000 residents, nearly 10% of whom are Filipinos, according to the US Census. 

No Filipino has invested in a costly run for a seat on the 5-member post, which no American of Asian descent and only one known Latino has occupied in the past two decades. 

A recent political shift was going to be a game-changer for the underrepresented populations.  But history might have to wait, if division persists in Daly City, home of the highest concentration of Filipinos in the continental United States.

That would be a bummer for City Council member and 5-time Mayor of Daly City Mike Guingona, who broke this town’s bamboo ceiling in 1993, when he became the first Filipino American ever elected in Daly City.

Conventional wisdom follows that his record has primed the criminal defense lawyer to be the first Filipino American Supervisor in the county. 

“I will succeed Adrienne Tissier,” San Francisco-born Guingona trumpeted early 2015 when asked if he would seek the seat vacated by his former peer on the City Council of Daly City.

Many Filipino political players agreed.

Thanks to a group of business owners and politicos who in 2011 had challenged authorities and forced a shift in the election system in San Mateo County, voters there will now choose their supervisors by district.  Candidates no longer have to campaign all way down in Half Moon Bay on the county’s southern coast in District 3, if they were eyeing a seat in Daly City, the county’s northernmost town in District 5.

Instead of courting 352,698 registered voters, they would preen just for 57,964, per official county statistics.

Where a candidate once needed upward of $80,000 for their war chest, ambition would cost them half today.

Anyone aspiring to represent the residents of District 5, which also includes Brisbane, Colma, and parts of South San Francisco and San Bruno – can skip the old trek and confine their campaign within district borders, now that San Mateo County has joined all other counties electing their leaders by district.  With current District 5 Supervisor Tissier termed out of office in 2016, Daly City – where Tissier was a council member prior to her county post - is expected to deliver her successor.

That’s what Guingona and many others thought when he joined the collective celebration over the election system shift, viewed as a boost to the political “empowerment” of Filipinos and Latinos.  Those two are the most populous communities of color in the county.

Their numerical superiority has not resulted in an election of an Asian and more than one Latino to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, however.

Guingona, the seniormost elected official in the district, is not alone in seeking the opening seat. So is David Canepa, Guingona’s  colleague on the city council of Daly City.

Canepa jumped the gun on potential opponents when he announced early 2015 that he was opening an account to initiate fund raising for his campaign. By now he says he has collected over $100,000.

The move was not unexpected. Canepa may be junior to all but one of his co-council members, but the former aide to the Assembly member later state Senator Leland Yee has endeared himself to Filipinos with his personality and availability at their events.

He’s not Filipino but he has won over Raymond Buenaventura, current mayor of Daly City, and Buenaventura’s supporters.  While the latter failed in his quest to be the first Fil-Am judge on the Superior Court, he topped the November 2014 city council election in Daly City, raking in more votes than his predecessor Guingona.  Guingona placed second.

Guingona had nominated and appointed Buenaventura to the city council in 2011, when a vacancy emerged. Canepa cast the lone opposing vote.  Buenaventura was duly elected a couple of months later and was elevated by his council peers to Mayor the following year.  He appointed Canepa to be his Vice Mayor.

The other prominent Fil-Ams in District 5, Colma Mayor Joanne del Rosario and Vice Mayor Diana Colvin, are supporting the supervisorial hopes of Helen Fisicaro, their predecessor on the council. The lone female contestant has already notched the endorsement of the incumbent Tissier, the supervisor’s chief of staff Lorraine Simmons confirmed to Rappler. 

Guingona is the lone candidate of color in the race. Brisbane Mayor Pro Tem Clifford Lenz, mayor pro tem is the third male and fourth white candidate.

Tissier’s endorsement of Fisicaro does not intimidate Guy Guerrero, Guingona confidante and supporter, who notes that his bet has garnered 5 digit totals from the electorate through the years. In contrast, Fisicaro and Lentz have won with less than 1,000 votes, he pointed out.  

“The other candidates will take votes from one another,” Guerrero aired the same confidence he showed 5 years ago when he began advocating to shift the way the county elects its officials.

With primary elections 6 months away, Guerrero is hoping he can sway FilAms to toss old enmity and join him in making history together behind Guingona.  The same call to unity has been sounded by Ray Satorre, Bradley Roxas, and Mario Panoringan, plaintiffs in the landmark lawsuit that changed the voting system in San Mateo County.–

Parts 1 of 3. To be continued