By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
As the race for the 15th District seat on the Los Angeles City Council entered the home stretch, candidate Warren Furutani spoke Thursday at a fundraising reception in Little Tokyo, joined by some high-profile supporters.
The runoff election between Assemblymember Furutani and LAPD Officer Joe Buscaino is on Tuesday, Jan. 17. They were the top vote-getters among 11 candidates in the November primary.
Assemblymember Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park) emceed the gathering in the Garden Room of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, one of Furutani’s early supporters, said that many of those present had a history with the candidate. “We have people here who have worked with Warren … not just as an assemblymember, not just when he worked with me as the state API director, not just during my campaign for mayor … but remember him when he was on the school board … when he was on the community college board … when he was a student at UCLA who understood that once he got in and they started closing the doors, his job was to keep the doors open, and not just for Japanese Americans, not just for the API community, but for all of us.”
The mayor added that Furutani “has never forgotten where he comes from. He comes from humble roots, a working-class family, grew up in San Pedro area … Wherever Warren Furutani has been, in whatever public position … he’s always been someone who is willing to stand up even if meant standing up alone. Even when the winds were in front of him, not behind him. Even when what he was standing up for wasn’t popular, wasn’t politically expedient.”
Calling Furutani a coalition-builder, Villaraigosa said, “I’ve seen the people who come to his campaign and knock on doors. They represent L.A., they represent the breadth and depth of diversity in this city in every respect. And they’re passionate about him because they know that he’s passionate about the issues that he fights for …
“Warren’s going to do everything he can to make sure that we’re growing this economy, that we’re creating jobs, that we’re investing in communities, that we’re making those investments across the board, not just in the most affluent, voter-rich part of his district … A lot of politicians focus on that demographic … But not Warren.”
Furutani will fight not only for San Pedro but also Wilmington, Harbor Gateway, Harbor City and particularly Watts, Villaraigosa said. “He will be at Nickerson Gardens, he will be at Imperial Courts, he will be at Jordan Downs, he will be at every part of his district from the highlands to the lowlands.”
Referring to the city’s ongoing budget problems, the mayor said that Furutani “will make the tough calls” while doing everything he can to minimize the impact on his constituents.
Since voter turnout on Tuesday is expected to be light, Villaraigosa stressed, “It’s all going to be about one thing — who can turn out more of their people.”
Furutani, his voice growing hoarse from campaigning, said he and his volunteers are doing just that — “talkin’, walkin’ and knockin’ to get the vote out.”
A Spanish saying that he learned from Villaraigosa — “Dime con quien andas y te diré quien eres” (Tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are) — applies to the campaign, Furutani said. “What I find, because I’m a little bit farther down the road in my career, is that you find that you keep crossing paths with certain people. It’s a good thing … We must be doing the right thing if they’re willing to come and help one more time.”
Debates leading up to the November election were difficult because there were so many candidates, but in the runoff everything is coming into focus, Furutani observed. “We’re running a campaign that’s totally against common conventional wisdom. Conventional political wisdom in the 15th Councilmanic District is that the councilpersons get elected out of San Pedro … I believe fundamentally how you campaign is how you’re going to govern. If you only campaign in one area, I’ve got a feeling if you get elected, that one area is going to get the bulk of attention for the rest of your term.
“So we’re trying to make it very clear we are running in the whole 15th District. We have been the only candidate throughout this whole process that has a campaign headquarters on 113th and Central Avenue in Watts … We have a satellite office that serves Wilmington and Harbor City … We’re in downtown San Pedro, 7th Street and Mesa. I live in the Harbor Gateway, so I’m there every day.”
He expected to have 300 to 350 volunteers out on the streets Saturday, and 400 on Tuesday. “So people power, the boots on the ground … are going to be a part of our campaign.”
Furutani charged that Buscaino’s campaign has been getting “independent expenditures” — to which the $500 individual donation limit does not apply — totaling $400,000. “So they have signs all over the place, they have mailers, they have TV commercials … The Chamber of Commerce, the Police Protective League … it’s really clear who they want to represent their interests, and who I have on my side … are volunteers, people in unions, people in community service organizations, a broad, diverse group of people.”
Every time he’s interviewed, Furutani is asked what he will cut from the city’s budget if elected. He told his supporters, “We know there’s some issues relative to pensions … that we have to look at, but this is all going to be done surgically. It’s not going to be done with a sledgehammer or a meat cleaver … As we look in every possible nook and cranny for … what to cut and how to save money, we’re going to have to talk about one more thing … revenue, taxes.
“I know that doesn’t help you in your political career, but … you take all of the economic terms, you take all of the discussions about deficit, you take all of these terms out of the picture, and it all comes down to one fundamental thing: What should government do for the people? What services should government provide? … We are not going to cut our way out of these problems.”
Citing his experience in the Assembly, where he co-chairs the Conference Committee on Pension Reform, Furutani said, “I know what I’m talking about. I want to have these conversations, have these arguments, have these debates, and then get ready to make the tough decisions. But the tough decision that the public has got to take into consideration is … whether our government takes care of the least among us or is only worried about the 1 percent richest among us.”
As he asks people to vote, he will also “ask them to look at their own future and take their responsibility for it as well,” he said.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose), chair emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, was also on hand to show his support.
The two have known each other since Furutani was kicked out of the College of San Mateo because of his activism and Honda helped him get into San Jose State through the Chicano Educational Opportunity Program.
Although he said he is reluctant to ask for money for his own re-election campaign, Honda had no reservations about asking everyone to “max out” in donations for Furutani.
Having risen through the ranks himself from school board member to county supervisor to assemblyman to congressman, Honda encouraged Furutani to run for the Los Angeles Board of Education 25 years ago.
“He did run and he won … So he’s ready. He’s got the background. You can’t pass up the opportunity. You’ve got to make the extra effort … I’ve heard it’s going to be close, but … we can’t allow ourselves to be second. We have to be first. And Warren Furutani has got to be in that seat helping to make those decisions.”
Using a Spanish phrase of his own, Honda declared that Furutani has the “huevos” to do the job.
Others in attendance included Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Baldwin Park City Councilmember Monica Garcia, former Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Woo, former Monterey Park Mayor Lily Lee Chen, David Louie of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument Authority Commission, Hogan Lee of the Los Angeles Quality and Productivity Commission, and Sefa Aina of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.