Chinatown Community Center Embroiled in Political Campaign?

August 4, 2011; Source: The Bay Citizen | Ed Lee, Interim Mayor of San Francisco and the first Chinese-American to hold the post, has said for months that he would not run for mayor this November. But after an intense grassroots campaign with alleged ties to a Chinatown community-based development organization, Lee is expected to heed the slogan emblazoned on the t-shirts of volunteers  – “Run Ed Run” – and announce his campaign this week. This will leapfrog him into frontrunner status, ahead of other candidates who were counting on him not to run.

This has put an unwelcome spotlight on the Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC), a low-income housing nonprofit that receives millions of dollars in city funding and has a long-standing relationship with Lee. As a charitable entity, CCDC risks losing its tax-exempt status if it is found to be engaging in political activity on behalf of the politician. CCDC has an annual budget of about $6 million, a third of which comes from the city.

Gordon Chin, CCDC’s executive director, defended his organization saying he and other executives have not instructed staff members, tenants and members of its youth program to support Lee or any other candidate. In an interview, Chin insisted that “We know the fine line between being in issue advocacy and electoral politics.” He added that the “Run Ed Run” campaign reflects ethnic pride and more importantly, is part of the broader political awakening among Chinese residents, who make up 21 percent of San Francisco’s population.

The problem is, Chin is one of four leaders of the political campaign and a longtime ally of Rose Pak, the head of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce who was instrumental in Lee’s appointment as interim mayor in January and has publicly encouraged him to run for a full term. Moreover, another CCDC executive, David Ho, the center’s political director, is also a strategist in the effort to get Lee to run for mayor. Ho is likewise tied to Pak, as her political protege and heir apparent.

The center’s political director, David Ho, is also working as a strategist on the effort to draft Lee. Ho, 33, is a political protégé of Pak, frequently driving her to meetings and events and meeting with supervisors over drinks to deliver her messages. Some observers predict that Ho, a savvy community organizer, will succeed Pak as the pre-eminent leader of Chinatown politics.

As for specific complaints, the Modesto Bee article only alludes to them by saying that there are critics.

Like many community-based development organizations, CCDC has a long history of activism, including organizing tenant protests against landlords in the 1970s and 1980s and a series of large-scale campaigns in support of major housing bond initiative in the 1990s and 2000s. It is the nature of such nonprofits to advocate on behalf of their constituencies which tend to be low-income minority populations. Such activities are no doubt vital to a democracy that truly heeds all voices. However, these entities and their leaders need to be vigilant lest they be perceived as colluding with politicians. This may not only cost them their tax-exempt status; it may very well work against the individuals and families they are fighting for.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, August 4, 2011.


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