High in the Hayward Hills, a multifarious group waits for the one person who brings them together. Anticipation lingers around the room along with the smell of fried chicken and Asian-style noodles.
In walks a slender woman in a neutral colored suit, her black curly hair neatly braided. They swarm the candidate for Assembly District 20, Jennifer Ong (D), with admiration and endearment.
“I think Jennifer is really a stand out, as far as her commitment to public service and her ethics,” said April Chan, congressional aide to Congresswoman Barbara Lee and host of the event. “I think that in Hayward, I don’t think I’m overstating by saying we have a problem with elected officials who are noble.”
Their affection for the first-time candidate emanates from the San Leandro native’s hard work and receptiveness to solving problems throughout the community.
“The day I met her we made a plan to go sit down and work on an event together in support of people with developmental disabilities,” said attendee Rodney Loché, Hayward’s Planning Commissioner. “And it seemed like she just has a gift for putting people together, to come together and work for a common cause.”
Loché’s story was a common theme amongst the supporters attending the Oct. 13 fundraiser event. Their stories involved community activism and Asian community services, typically outlining Ong’s main constituency in the primary elections, the Asian community and medical field.
“Unfortunately, many of us do not have a voice or say unless you are actively involved in politics,” said Carl Chan, a prominent Asian community leader speaking primarily about the Chinese community. He goes on saying Ong will give the Asian community a voice they deserve.
The group of supporters also gathered to commemorate the opening of her new headquarters, which was delayed for a location near BART. But it hasn’t been keeping them from campaigning, said Susan Ma, Ong’s scheduler.
Emerging from humble beginnings, the Ong family emigrated to the United States from the Philippines in 1979, when Ong was 11 years old. Seven of them shared one room and while her mom worked at the O.Co. Coliseum in Oakland selling hot dogs, her father worked in the produce section at Lucky’s.
As a Hayward alumna, Ong headed to Berkeley’s optometry school and now owns her own optometry practice, in Alameda that has grown significantly throughout the years.
Ong has lived the American dream and wants to give others the same opportunity. That is why she is stepping into the political arena, under what she says is “pure obligation.”
“I think California was very unique in giving me and my family the opportunities we received,” said Ong, avoiding the only chair to sit cross-legged on the floor. “So be able to own my practice and have had great education from UC Berkeley and Cal State Hayward, all public school education the least that I can do is, give that same opportunities to families too.”
If elected, the optometrist wants to make sure she can share her experience with others by advocating for universal healthcare, accessible education, job creation and decreasing crime.
Ong’s resume contains a lengthy list of accomplishments. She currently sits on 12 different committees, the most notable being Alameda County Commissioner on the Status of Women, founder and co-chair of Hepatitis B free campaign of Alameda County and liaison of the Women’s Caucus of the California Democratic Party, just to name a few.
Ong was the 2009 recipient of 100 Most Influential Filipina Women award in the U.S. along with 1996 and 2008 recipient of Alameda Contra Costa Counties Optometric Society.
She also donates health care to those who are incapable of receiving it and has 20 years of passing legislation experience through lobbying in Sacramento and Washington D.C. Ong contributed to the development and passing of SB 120, requiring nutritional facts in restaurant chains, AB 1224, increasing access to vision services and preventing the elimination of eye care benefits to Medi-Cal recipients.
Fluent in English, Tagalog, Ilocano, Spanish and Romanian, the multilingual candidate would be the first Filipina to join California’s legislative system. She faces former Hayward city councilmember Bill Quirk in the general elections, trailing only 4.6 percent in the primaries.
Ong mentions she is behind Quirk in funding, alleging her opponent used “over $100 thousand [of] his own money.”
As the fundraiser party winds down and members clean up, Ong explains there was “no motivation” from her in an independent poll by Global Strategy Group released in September, putting her ahead of Quirk with a 15 percent lead. It counters Quirk’s 13 percent lead in his internal poll done by Godbe Research.
Furthermore, she says Quirk pushed greenhouse gas emitting Calpine Russell City Energy Center located in Hayward. She said controversy surrounds the clean burning power plant, because Hayward residents opposed the power plant that sits nearby their homes and the bay’s shoreline.
“If you don’t want your family to live next to one (power plant), then please don’t ask other families to live next to one,” Ong said.
Unlike her opponent, Ong’s oppositional view on Proposition 30 — Gov. Brown’s tax increase for education — can make a college student cringe. Ong feels raising sales taxes on subsidies like food by a quarter percent could prevent others from learning if they can’t afford a proper nutrition.
The assembly candidate also wanted to emphasize Proposition 35, dealing with human sex trafficking. As a community activist she has worked with domestic violence cases and trafficking incidents and feels that more light should be shed on the subject.
Ong and Quirk are competing over termed-out assembly member Mary Hayashi’s position, whose recent shoplifting arrest filled the local news.
This entry was published in The Pioneer Online on Thursday, October 25th, 2012 at 2:33 pm.