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Chiang’s Personal Ordeal Clouds Election Victory

TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Chiang should have been celebrating in January.

After defeating 10 candidates in a hotly contested primary for a seat on California’s Board of Equalization and easily winning the general election, the Chatsworth resident was beginning his first full term on the board of the state agency.

But shortly after Chiang was sworn in, a distressing phone call from his brother cast a shadow over his success: Their only sister, Joyce, had mysteriously disappeared Jan. 9, just five blocks from her Washington, D.C., apartment.

Joyce Chiang, 28, was last seen by a friend who had dropped her off near a coffee shop in the bustling Dupont Circle neighborhood early that Saturday evening. The Immigration and Naturalization Service lawyer had planned to get a cup of tea and walk to her home nearby, according to her younger brother, Roger, with whom she shares an apartment.

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Roger became alarmed when she did not report for work Monday and alerted police, he said.

Joyce Chiang’s coat, keys and several identification cards were found near a park in southeast Washington nearly two weeks after her disappearance.

Since then, there have been no new leads, said FBI spokesman Doug Lindquist.

The news was devastating to John Chiang, 36.

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“She was my soul mate,” he said.

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When they were children growing up in a Chicago suburb, Chiang often shielded his younger siblings from danger.

Joyce Chiang, who was student body president at Smith College during her undergraduate years, had long been interested in public service, her family said. She worked in the Washington office of Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Mission Hills) before beginning work at the INS.

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She also did charity work in her spare time, they said. “She was always doing good deeds,” John Chiang said.

John and Joyce grew close while she was in college and during her years in law school at Georgetown University, where John, a tax attorney, had earned his law degree.

“John and Joyce, the two Js in the household, have very similar personalities,” said Roger, 26, who works for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “That’s why they get along so well.

“They really look at each other as advisors. Both of them are attorneys. Both of them go to each other for matters that are professional or personal. They really value each other’s judgment.”

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Throughout the more than two-month-long ordeal, John Chiang has remained on the West Coast, while Roger has taken a more active role in aiding authorities with the investigation and fielding calls from reporters and well-wishers.

John Chiang has continued his work on the Board of Equalization, a powerful if perhaps obscure state agency that administers and collects more than $33 billion a year in taxes. The Democrat has served on the board since 1996, when he replaced his boss, Brad Sherman, who left when he was elected to the House of Representatives from California’s 24th Congressional District.

Chiang said it can be difficult to remain accessible to his Los Angeles County constituents in the face of his family’s trials.

“I can continue to perform my job,” he said. "[But] at times, it can be really painful.”

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In the first few weeks after his sister vanished, Chiang said he was so distraught he could not even discuss her case. Even now, he sometimes becomes emotional when talking about her disappearance.

But remembering Joyce’s commitment to social justice, he now occasionally speaks about her at public appearances to encourage community involvement.

“What has a healing effect sometimes is to just carry on the good work my sister was trying to do,” he said.

Beyond that, there is little he can do but watch from across a continent as the FBI search continues, fearing the worst but hoping Joyce is alive somewhere, and safe.

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“I just don’t know,” he said. ". . . I just so love my sister. I believe in God, and I just believe that whatever happens, happens for a reason.”


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