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Rose Pak’s death, one year later: Community fund launches amid scramble for power

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Rose Pak greets her loyal supporters at San Francisco International Airport after they celebrated her return from China on May 23, 2016. (Jessica Christian/2016 S.F. Examiner


In the year since Rose Pak’s death, other Chinatown players’ influence has begun to blossom.
But without Pak, their influence is fragmented.

Pak was known as a “power broker” (though she hated that moniker), but considered herself a community organizer. Chinatown politicos are now vying to become the next de-facto Chinatown leader (Spoiler alert: No one yet has the skills or heart to do it.), and the neighborhood needs help now more than ever.

“It’s impossible to encapsulate what Rose Pak meant to Chinatown,” said Gordon Chin, founder of the Chinatown Community Development Center, and one of Pak’s dear friends.

Her political muscle was well known, but she also was a gatekeeper to power. It was Rose who lobbied for the Central Subway. It was Rose (and Willie Brown) who ran the “Run, Ed, Run” campaign to elect San Francisco’s first Chinese-American mayor.

Rose was the central Chinatown figure with access to the Mayor’s Office, bending the mayor’s ear to Chinatown’s benefit. She gave Chinatown interests a central voice, and a powerful one, as her frequent phone calls, countless dinners and innumerable tipsters offered full view of the political chessboard.

Now, others are trying to fill the void.

The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, also known as the Chinese Six Companies, is now taking a more active role advocating within The City. Pius Lee, a former San Francisco police commissioner, is pushing Mayor Ed Lee for more Stockton Street merchant support.
That’s only the beginning of favors he’s rumored to be asking of our mustachioed mayor to benefit local merchants, who also happen to be his tenants.

I’ve also heard rumblings that former Assessor-Recorder Mabel Teng, who resigned amidst scandalous accusations in 2005, is maneuvering to be in the limelight again. And Sunset District-connected Josephine Zhao is now running for school board, with rumored aspirations for a District 10 supervisor seat.

However, few will ever hold a candle to Pak, for one key reason:

“I think many assumed she was driven by blood politics,” said Supervisor Jane Kim. “But Rose was deeply driven by her heart.”

* * *
With Rose’s heart in mind, Chin and a bevy of local luminaries, including former Mayor Willie Brown, Supervisor Aaron Peskin and the President of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce Kitman Chan, gathered at the chamber’s headquarters Monday to announce the Rose Pak Community Fund, which will launch on Sept. 28.

They’re moving with speed and have already racked up $600,000 for the community in Pak’s name from a variety of donors across The City. The goal is $1 million, said chamber board member Eddie Au.

Former Mayor Willie Brown speaks at a Monday news conference in Chinatown about the launch of the Rose Pak Community Fund. (Daniel Kim/Special to S.F. Examiner)

“Rose would call any one of us on any occasion and say, somebody needs this, somebody needs that,” Brown told reporters. That’s the ethos of the fund, which will go toward health care, education, affordable housing and culture.

The first recipients are five students from San Francisco engaged in public service, who will each be awarded $5,000. Ka Yan Choi is a San Francisco State University student and SFPD cadet, for instance, and Shirley Tsang is an SFSU senior majoring in psychology who gives guided tours of Chinatown.

The fund may also aid merchants who suffered delays from the Chinatown Central Subway project — ironically, a project Pak lobbied City Hall hard for. Though none said it out loud, many heavily hinted that merchants along Stockton Street would have received financial assistance to survive the Central Subway construction delays far earlier if Pak were alive.

Peskin put it bluntly: “This is a true and candid admission. This City has not worked as well in the last year without her.”

Other Pak priorities, like seismic upgrades to Chinatown public housing and improvements to local parks, are still underway.

“We are still checking things off her list,” Peskin said.

* * *
In this new orange-tinted regime we live in, laughter is as important as ever.
Those who made it out to Comedy Day in Golden Gate Park certainly got their dose, courtesy of Debi Durst and a bevy of fantastic performers.

But I want to give a special shoutout to Capt. Katie Robinson, who made her San Francisco debut Sunday at the soon-to-be Robin Williams Meadow. An out lesbian, Robinson served the U.S. Army in both Iraq and Afghanistan and marched in the snow with other veterans at Standing Rock.

Back in January, Robinson joined me, Broke-Ass-Stuart and media impresario Lee Houskeeper (and his son) to protest Donald Trump’s inauguration: We called ourselves the “D.C. 5.” Though we rabble roused together in that dark time, I had no idea she could make folks howl so easily.

On Sunday, Captain Katie performed her send-up of Donald Trump, called “Trump on the Road.” Find it on YouTube — it’s a gas.

* * *
Speaking of Comedy Day, former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano performed a bit for the crowd.
It’s a routine I’d seen before, but this time, there was a (supposedly) accidental twist.

Tom told the crowd on Sunday that he suffers from “Post Traumatic Sacramento Disorder” and hears voices in his head, like that of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, saying, “Hey girly-man!”

To which Tom retorted, “That’s Mr. Girly-Man, to you!”

Tom said he also hears in his head the voice of Da Mayor, Willie Brown, saying, “Take the check! Take the check!”

Willie was sitting right in the front row.

“Oops! Sorry, Willie,” Tom said, holding his mouth in what seemed like genuine, if mild, shock.

I asked Willie on Monday if he roasted Tom afterward. He simply answered, “Oh yes. Oh yes!”

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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