SAN GABRIEL — Two months after being elected, Chin Ho Liao took office as a member of the San Gabriel City Council on Tuesday.
On Monday, the City Council voted 3-1 in favor of seating Liao, whose residency in San Gabriel had been called into question. Voting in the majority were Mayor Juli Costanzo and Councilmembers Jason Pu and Kevin Sawkins, with Vice Mayor John Harrington dissenting.
The Asian Pacific American Legal Center, which represented the councilmember-elect in the dispute, expressed satisfaction in the council’s decision to “uphold Liao’s right to take his place as the newest democratically elected member of the council.”
Liao was the second-highest vote winner in the March 5 election for three seats on the council. Also elected were incumbent Sawkins and challenger Pu. Despite Liao’s victory — and in violation of state law, according to APALC — the previous council voted against seating him as a result of a single complaint it received regarding his residency qualifications.
The council, which included two defeated incumbents, Mario De La Torre and David Gutierrez, also voted to rule on the complaint itself. Liao’s supporters said the new council had a conflict of interest since Costanzo and Harrington had endorsed De La Torre and Gutierrez.
The complaint was lodged by local resident Fred Paine and his attorney, Arnold Alvarez-Glasman, who claimed that Liao’s primary residence was outside the city limits, and that he did not plan to stay in his San Gabriel apartment if he lost the election.
Costanzo faulted Liao for moving to San Gabriel six months before the election, but said it was not illegal to do so.
On April 25-27, the council held a three-day hearing to hear testimony and examine evidence regarding Liao’s eligibility.
“Based on overwhelming evidence in favor of Liao, the council correctly concluded that Liao is qualified to assume the office to which he was duly elected,” APALC said.
“The City Council’s decision underscores what the people of San Gabriel have known all along, that I am qualified to represent them as a member of the City Council,” Liao said Monday. “I am deeply humbled by the outpouring of sentiment that community members have demonstrated in support of my right to represent them. I look forward to being sworn in as soon as possible so I can get to the job of serving the community of San Gabriel.”
“APALC took Mr. Liao’s case because it involves two compelling, intersecting stories,” said Eugene Lee, voting rights project director at APALC. “This is Mr. Liao’s personal story as an immigrant who has served the community of San Gabriel for the past 24 years through his involvement with nonprofit and civic organizations, and wishes only to serve the community further through the American tradition of public service.
“And this is the story of San Gabriel and the San Gabriel Valley region, an area marked by massive demographic changes during the past quarter-century, resulting in a population of Asian Americans and other immigrants who are increasingly participating in the American tradition of democracy.
“After two months of unnecessary divisiveness, the efforts of Mr. Liao and San Gabriel voters to honor these traditions are finally being given their due respect. Now the city must begin a healing process, and we will do whatever we can to help in that process.”
“This case was not about technical residency rules. This case was about two fundamental rights, the right to hold office and the right to vote. These rights are inextricably intertwined,” said Nilay U. Vora of Bird Marella, which is pro bono counsel through APALC for Liao. “What good is the right to vote if the person you voted for is denied the right to hold the office to which he or she is duly elected? The City Council’s decision today avoids further infringement of these rights. I congratulate Mr. Liao and look forward to him assuming office.”