何毓琦的个人博客分享 http://blog.sciencenet.cn/u/何毓琦 哈佛(1961-2001) 清华(2001-date)


Chinese American elected to town wide office in Lexington 精选

已有 12659 次阅读 2012-3-7 20:05 |个人分类:生活点滴|系统分类:海外观察|关键词:face,class,campaign,Chinese,office| Chinese, office, class, face, campaign

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The first Chinese-American elected to town-wide office in Lexington, MA

-The campaign and democracy in its purest form –


Reported below is a record of a successful local political campaign run by the Chinese Americans in our town for elected office. As the well known American political saying “All politics are local”, this account gives ScienceNet readers a sense of democracy and American politics in its purest form as well as an operations manual for future CA candidate who wishes to run for office.



My home town, Lexington, MA, being the birth place of the American Revolution is a typical small suburban town of population 30000+ near a metropolitan center. The town is governed by an elected five-person Selectman Committee (instead of a mayor) who set budget and policies. Day-to-day operation is carried out by a paid professional town manager. Other elected town offices are

1.    School Committee which runs K-12 schools and administer the spending of half of the town’s annual budget (the Lexington public school has a well deserved reputation for excellence because the residents are willing to spend tax money for their schools. The town spends $16,000/pupil and $200,000/handicapped child every year in the school budget.)

2.    Planning Board which decides on real estate development and zoning of commercial and residential properties (in most of the US, there are strict regulations as to what one can built where and in what form. This is done to guide and protect the characteristics and environment of a town)

3.    Housing authority which operates subsidized housing for lower income families and seniors.

4.    Some 200+ Town Meeting Members who represent different residential districts, called precincts,  of the town in authorizing and appropriating budget and spending (in the same way as the US Congress for the nation)

By the way, all these elected positions are unpaid. People serve voluntarily. This is democracy in its purest form – no party designation and loyalty, no financial incentives of any kind, no hints of any scandal in the 46 years I lived in the town. People serve out of genuine desire to do public good.

This year the only town wide office under contest (two persons running for one open slot) is a vacancy on the Housing Authority. The diversity of the population of the Lexington has also increased substantially in recent years. In some public housing properties for seniors, the Chinese residents have reached 50% level. In response to these demographic changes, the -Community Task Force of the Chinese American Association of Lexington (CAAL-CTF) recruited a candidate in the person of Weidong WANG, a local resident, Microsoft employee, and ph.d degree holder, to run for the open Housing Authority seat. His opponent is an older long time resident who served the town in many capacities in the past. Thus, it is a campaign of the new against the old – by no means an easy task. My wife, Sophia, being a veteran of several past town election campaigns and active in town affairs volunteered to be the campaign manager and with the enthusiastic support of many local Chinese Americans started the work back in 2011 more than three months before the election date of March 6, 2012.

1.     The first order of business is to visit, pay respects, and to introduce Weidong to the influential leaders of the town, past and present elected officers, and activists. In this, Sophia called upon her past efforts/relationships and is able to get the early endorsement of many influential names. This turned out to be important since there was a third well known contestant who also approached these leaders for endorsement and were told they have already committed. After he assessed his chances, he decided to withdraw leaving only a two person race.

2.    Next, the candidate must take out and file official papers with town office declaring his intention to run for the position. This makes things official.

3.    Third, a treasurer for the campaign is recruited. Not only she keeps the books but must observe various rules and regulation regarding how campaign funds are solicited and spent. What are legitimate and legal expenses (in federal and state elections one must make monthly written report to election commission which the public can see and examine) . The actual fundraising in this instance was not hard since all local Chinese Americans were eager to donate being the first candidate of our race to stand for town wide election. We raised over $3000.00 using the conventional wisdom of approximately one dollar per vote (It was estimated that we may need as many as 2000 votes to win)

4.    Next comes the organization and list of things-to-do for the next 2.5 months. In particular there are materials to be solicited, prepared, distributed, and placed:

                              i.            Make and distribute campaign buttons for supporters to wear (see photo below)

                            ii.            Lawn signs as advertisement to be designed, printed, and placed on the lawns of houses of supporters located on strategic busy streets (see photo and map below).

                         iii.            Literature for handout (see campaign website below)

                         iv.            Endorsements from prominent residents.

                            v.            Schedule letters written  to the local weekly newspaper by supporters and endorsers of the candidate to be published every week until election day

                         vi.            Newspaper ads to be run the week before the election. These ads are expensive (see photo). Incidentally, newspapers have very strict rules and deadlines about political ads and letters. All campaign managers should be aware of them and plan ahead.

                       vii.            Postcards (see photo) mailed to persons registered to vote. These are addressed to the list of residents who voted in the town election last time. There are thousands of voters and require a team of dedicated supporters days to stamp and address them. A personal written note is usually included to avoid the appearance of mass mechanical mailing. Alternatively, we also had volunteers to personally deliver these cards to their neighbors. The number of person-hours spent on this task are considerable (imagine stamping, addressing and writing over 2000 cards  and personally deliver hundreds. see photo). Incidentally, town office keeps record of registered voters and past voting record of residents (NOT the actual vote which is of course secret). Political operatives use such record to plan strategies and reach voters

5.    Next, schedule and attend numerous candidate  meetings and forums which include

                              i.            Current meetings of the Housing Authority for the candidates to be familiar with the issues involved

                            ii.            Coffee meetings given by various supporters to introduce the candidates

                         iii.            League of Women Voters (LWV) candidate forum. LWV is a national non-partisan organization that holds candidate debate meetings from Presidential to local election for almost all elections in America (see photo of debate).

                         iv.            Candidate meetings in the various senior housing projects to meet with the project residents to hear their views

                            v.            Starbuck hour. You announce in newspapers that you and your campaign manager will be at a local Starbuck store each week for an hour on a given day to meet with any voter and residents.

                         vi.            Other candidate meetings sponsored by various local organizations.

On the average, the candidate and his campaign manager attend at least two to three meetings per week in the five weeks before the election.

6.    One also need to recruit people in different precincts to distribute literature, recruit supporters, place lawn signs, hold signs outside voting places during election day to remind voter, and drive disabled and handicapped residents to voting places. With nine voting places for four hours each this means 36 person-hours standing in cold outdoors by volunteers for sign holding (unlike winter sport, standing still in freezing temperature for an hour can be taxing. Signs and ads are not allowed inside or near voting places. ). See the several photos of enthusiastic sign holders and note 2 below about rules for sign holding.

7.    It is also important not to run our campaign as a candidate to represent an ethnic minority but as a candidate who happens to be of an ethnic minority. Thus visible supports of the voting majority are necessary and important, e.g., you cannot have letters of endorsement by residents with Chinese names only. A preponderance of letters should be from non-Chinese voters.

8.    Finally imagine keep all the above activities coordinated and on schedule with a team of enthusiastic volunteers require literally thousands of e-mail messages and phone calls.


As an aside, it’s the tradition of Chinese upbringing that unless politics is your career choice to be involved in any form of political task is dangerous to you and your family. You should never stick your neck out but be invisible to the public. This may be very good advice for living in China. But some Chinese Americans despite years living in the US still carry this belief. In our campaign, we have encountered fellow compatriots who have not heard nor care about the election;  who do not wishes to vote for fear leaving a record; or who  may support a Chinese American running for office but refuses to be publically identified as supporter by wearing a campaign button or having lawn sign placed in front of their homes. They are conditioned to think that somehow FBI or other police will keep records and exact retributions in the future (note 1). While we do not agree with these fears but understand such behaviors perfectly and do not mind. Fortunately enough CA volunteers have no such concern and are willing to take advantage of the freedom/democracy offered by the US.


Finally, it was all over 15 minutes after the polls closed. Our poll watchers stationed at the voting place reported the winning margin as (262 votes out of 4300 votes - a close call but we won). Spousal pride aside, I can honestly say this was a textbook and professionally run campaign. Everything from candidate, organization, fund raising, field operations, ads and communication, and volunteer support that need to be done were done.  To see a small minority about 5% of the population through sheer determination, hard work, and goodwill managed to convince the majority to vote for an unknown candidate of this minority race over a majorty candidate with an established record is a near human-made miracle only in America.  Congratulations to the entire CAAL-CTF team who worked earnestly and enthusiastically together to achieve this; to the high tech ways of combining good old fashioned organization with modern computerized convenience;  and to Weidong WANG who tirelessly ran a responsible and responsive campaign. We see a future community leaders in him and his wife!

(Note 1. FBI does keep track of potential threats. Ten years ago after I retired and took up a part time job at Tsinghua University, FBI immediately came to interview me. This is probably because of my top secret clearance with defense consulting work in the 70s and 80s. I had nothing to hide and they have not bothered me since even with my blog on Science Net China.  But I wouldn’t be surprised that all my e-mails are monitored. Participation in domestic political activity and involvement with foreign countries are two different things.)

(Note 2. Instructions and rules for sign holding (I show this, and other photos to give ScienceNet.cn reader some idea of the details an American campaign and her volunteers need to pay attention to. Otherwise, there can be law suit to challenge the result of an election) :

 Two more things to remind you:

1. Pay attention to Sophia's Winter Time Sign Holder Must Read info. it will be cold tomorrow, so do bundle up! Over the weekend, some sign holders came without mittens. We don't want to see anyone going home sick.

2. While you want to stand somewhere to catch voters' eyes, there's a law that the sign holder cannot be xxxx ft (I think it is 100) from the polling station.  Use your own judgment.  Worse come to worst, the police will tell you where to stand. Don't argue, just do it. If there are others standing there holding signs, just stand beside them.

Below we try to give you an idea where to stand for each polling location below:

CARY HALL: stand on the side walk in front the hall, so when people drive on Mass. Ave, they will see you.   DO NOT stand right in front of Cary Hall as no one can see you and that's also too close to the poll anyway.

BOWMAN: on the sidewalk where there's a sign saying "Vote here" , voters will pass you.

CLARKE:  on Waltham St. near the traffic light going into Clarke, not at the school parking lot.

BRIDGE: on the side walk near the building where people go into the gym (?) to vote.  

DIAMOND (Hancock Rotary): stay at the side at the rotary that leads into Diamond. No need to get any closer to Diamond.

DIAMOND (Hathaway Entrance): stay at the corner of Hathaway and Adams Street, on the Hathaway side. No need to get any closer to Diamond.

ESTABROOKE:  on the sidewalk going up to the school building, but you must let people see you when they drove by on Grove St. so it is at the corner of Grove St. and the drive up to the school building. NOT at the building where no one on Grove St. can see you.

PUBLIC WORKS (DPW): stay the corner of Bedford Street leading into DPW. No need to get any closer to DPW building.

HASTING: at the corner of Mass Ave and Crobsy Road, no need to get any closer.

In general, the signs are there for people to see,


Very important: signs cannot go near the polling station! )

(Note 3: So many persons beyond CAAL-CTF contributed to this campaign that it is impossible for me to acknowledge everyone by name. My fellow Lexingtonians, please use the comment section of this blog article to name any individual and event that I unintentionally missed.)

Website to visit

http://wangforhousingauthority.wordpress.com/   Campaign website

http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?vps=2&ie=UTF8&hl=en&oe=UTF8&msa=0&msid=204724652819608098494.0004b93e1cbed1fa5daca map of 50+ lawn signs planted all over town (Note: alert reader may notice that there are less less 50 signs on the google map now. This is because by regulation signs must be removed after an election. We have already begin to remove them.)


Chinese newspaper report of the event.


Local report of the victory






Lawn signs

Campaign buttons

CAAL-CTF workers addressing thousands of postcards


More addressing postcards


Sign holders on election day March 6, 2012.


For more pictures, please check my album http://bbs.sciencenet.cn/home.php?mod=space&uid=1565&do=album&id=44762  You can click on any photo and then use the button on the upper righthand corner to start the slide show.




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