Except for a historic victory in Arcadia, the anticipated political gains for the rapidly growing Asian American community in the San Gabriel Valley failed to materialize in Tuesday's elections.
In fact, Asian Americans suffered a surprising loss of political ground in Monterey Park with the defeat of Councilman Samuel Kiang.
In Arcadia, Sheng H. Chang will become not only the first Asian American, but the first ethnic minority council member when he is sworn into office. Chang was the top vote-getter among 11 candidates vying for three seats.
Barbara Kuhn and Mary B. Young also won election to the City Council, while incumbents George W. Fasching and Joseph C. Ciraulo were ousted.
"This is the first time in 91 years an Asian or minority has been elected to the City Council and I hope more Asians and minorities will now contribute to this community," said a jubilant Chang, 52, a physician.
But in Monterey Park, where 53% of residents are of Asian descent, all three Asian American candidates, including incumbent Kiang, were routed. Kiang could not be reached for comment, but some city political observers theorized that pre-election publicity about the possibility of the state's first Asian American council majority may have worked against those candidates.
Voters elected incumbents Marie T. Purvis, Fred Balderrama and challenger Francisco Alonso over Kiang, Peter Chan and Mitchell Ing.
Balderrama was the top vote-getter, followed by Purvis and Alonso. Kiang ran fourth, 639 votes behind Alonso.
Judy Chu, whose seat was not up for election this time, will be the only Asian American member on the five-member council. And Chu will be leaving the council if her bid for a state Assembly seat is successful later this year
Asian American candidates also fared poorly in two other San Gabriel Valley cities.
In San Marino, challengers Allan K. Yung and Alex Tse lost to incumbent Paul C. Crowley and contractor Vince Fulitze. In Rosemead, challenger Dolly Leong was easily defeated by incumbent Gary A. Taylor and Jay Imperial, a former councilman.
Two of Monterey Park's Asian American candidates agreed with those who speculated that the publicity over the possibility of an Asian-majority council hurt their chances by highlighting the racial issue.
"I think the voting was along racial lines," said Peter Chan, 45, an accountant.
Chan also said many Chinese Americans did not vote after a consultant for a development company that had wanted to build a card club in the city last year sent out a mailer recently highlighting election rules and penalties for voter fraud in Chinese and English in an effort to discourage voting. Kiang had taken a leading role in repelling the proposed club. The secretary of state's office has asked the district attorney to investigate the leaflet.
"Chinese Americans didn't come out and vote because they were intimidated," said Chan.
Ing said too much was made the idea of the first Asian American majority.
"I believe that scared people because of the coverage and attention it was receiving nationwide," the 30-year-old banker said. "I think the attention was the reason for the loss of Asian Americans on the council.
"There's now the possibility if Judy Chu wins her bid for state Assembly, there won't be an Asian representation on the council," he added. "I think this is a rude awakening for the Chinese who don't go out and vote."
In San Marino, Allan Yung looked at his defeat as a steppingstone for future Asian American candidates in a city where one-third of the residents are of Asian descent but no member of a minority has served on the council.
"Sooner or later, it will be time," said the 53-year-old ear, nose and throat surgeon who lost a second bid for a council seat. "I have a lot of Asian friends who are very capable."
In neighboring Arcadia, that time came Tuesday for Chang. He emphasized that it took more than an Asian American bloc to elect him, saying that more than half of his support came from non-Asians.