Rose Pak, notorious Chinatown activist and the supposed mastermind behind the Run Ed Run campaign, is one of the best-known characters in San Francisco. This week, SF Weekly sat down to dish with Pak about politics, her projects and passions, and life before becoming the biggest power broker in San Francisco.
Last time: Pak thinks Mayor Ed Lee can be persuaded to run. In this installment: Pak rails on state Senator Leland Yee, who is also running for San Francisco mayor. She also talks about her 40-year battle for the Central Subway.
Between Mayor Ed Lee, Oakland Mayor Jane Quan, and Supervisor David Chiu, it seems that more and more Chinese-Americans are involved in political roles. Is it your priority to see more Chinese-Americans as political leaders?
Yes, and the right Chinese-American leadership. It's very critical that we have people that really hail from the community, that understand the story of immigrant communities and have an affinity with the immigrants.
Unfortunately, a lot of our people work so hard to come here for a green card for making a livelihood, but once they make it, they leave and they don't come back. I don't blame them, but we need our people to come back and help the next generation of immigrants and to teach them empowered politicalment [sic] -- that they can't just sit around waiting for someone to help them, they have to help themselves. The people who have the education, that have the knowhow, also have a moral obligation to help the less advantaged ones.
So if our Chinese-American leadership don't share that affinity and don't understand that you have to help our own people to achieve to that level, then I have nothing I want to contribute to you.
How about Leland Yee? He's a Chinese-American politician.
Leland Yee is one of the most morally corrupt politicians I've ever encountered in 40 years. From the first day he stepped in as the school board member, lying to get his children to the preferred assigned school using a phony address, selling his services to Chinese-American parents who would cut an arm or leg to get their kid to the right schools ... he did all of that.
So I don't think he stood for anything decent in our community except to come and take money and then claiming to be the first Asian this and Asian that, but he doesn't impress me. He doesn't stand for anything except corruption and bribery.
SF Weekly contacted Yee's campaign office for a response to Pak's comments. Campaign manager Jim Stearn responded, "We have no response to those kinds of wild accusations without any basis in facts."
Tell me about the Central Subway. That's been one of your big projects.
Forty years ago, when San Francisco was looking to build Mission Bay, Bayview-Hunters Point, downtown Moscone Center, the waterfront, and Treasure Island, they also were looking at transit corridors and they had all the lines they were planning on the master plan for Third Street light rail, from Bayview-Hunters Point all the way to the waterfront.
And I said, "Huh? What happened to Chinatown?" I envisioned that if we don't have access to public transit, then our community would suffer -- that when they built and connected up all those areas, we would be isolated.
I also knew for a fact that the Chinese-American immigrants would be buying there, because they're the only affordable areas. So how do you connect the communities together? I know the habits of our people. Our seniors will all come back to Chinatown for support, for church support, family association, social networking. How do they come here? And the new immigrants working in our restaurants, how would they commute to work?
I saw that 40 years ago, and I thought, "The city is planning all of this without our people in mind." So I just carved myself a seat on the Citizens Advisory Board on the Third Street light rail panel, and I've been sitting there all those years.
There's no conspiracy, you know, bullshit! [Park starts pounding the table for emphasis.] I just sat there, and I sat there, and I sat there, and I attended hundreds of meetings to make sure at every turn I was there, pushing for this second phase to come to Chinatown.
You've been oft quoted as saying you play politics as a blood sport ...
Well, they treat it as a blood sport, so you have to be consistent and play it! Otherwise, they push you over. But it is the persistency and the consistency -- I stick with it. People only look at your victories. They don't look at the blood, sweat, and tears that you put in.
For 40 years we fought for the Central Subway. The whole community wrote thousands of letters of support. We were there at every turn. We proved that Chinatown is one of the most densely populated areas outside of Manhattan. That nearly 70 percent are without cars and rely on public transit, and that 67 percent of our people are below the poverty line, so they will never have a car. So yes, we fought very hard for it. We never gave up, that's all.
Up Next: A Day in the Life of Rose Pak