Mike Fong takes on Burton Brink in special 49th Assembly District election

This post first appeared on San Gabriel Valley Tribune - El Monte on . You can read the original article here.

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Republican Burton Brink lost by wide margins to Ed Chau for a seat in the 49th District Assembly, in 2018 and 2020. He’ll face the same obstacles he had then when he runs against Democrat Mike Fong for the seat recently vacated by Chau after the departing Assemblyman was appointed a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge in late November.

The special election primary will be contested Feb. 15. If Brink and Fong remain the only two candidates, the winner would bypass the April 19 general election and finish Chau’s term, which ends in early December.

With redistricting recently completed, a June primary and November general election would then be on tap for the newly drawn 49th District. Brink and Fong both expect to enter that as well.

The 49th District is not only majority Democrat (45% to 19% for Republicans), its 10 San Gabriel Valley cities are made up of a population of 56.5% Asian, according to Ballotpedia via the U.S. Census Bureau (2020). This would seem to again make Brink a heavy underdog.

Both candidates tried to downplay any perceived notions regarding those facts during recent interviews.

Brink said he completely understands the numbers. He proceeded to lay out the reasons why they should not matter. For one, he said he has plenty of Democrats and Independents on his team, as well as plenty of Asians.

“And just because I’m a Caucasian white male adult, whatever terminology you want to call it, I’ve never looked at race,” Brink said. “When I’ve grown up and when I’ve worked in law enforcement, I’ve treated everybody equally. It didn’t matter what race or anything they are.

“And a lot of people in the Asian community are just now starting to learn, I actually have a son (from his ex-wife) who’s half Chinese. So for people to say that I’m not connected with the Chinese community, don’t really know me.”

Brink, who spent 29 years with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department — retiring as a sergeant — is from Arcadia and graduated from Arcadia High. He noted he has been part of the 49th District since 1967.

“I think people would like to see someone who’s actually connected with the community who has connections into the Chinese or Asian community, who have people who are on my team that are Democrat, Independents, Libertarians — I mean, you name it, I have them on my team,” Brink said.

He brought Fong into his argument.

“My opponent, he came from the 51st Assembly District; he ran in 2017 and ran in the special election and lost,” Brink said. Fong finished fifth among Democrats in the 2017 special-election primary for the District 51 Assembly.

Fong was more reserved in his assessment of any advantages he might enjoy.

“This is the only Asian-majority seat in the state of California and in terms of the demographics of the district, it is about 53, 54 percent Asian-American,” Fong said. “That includes a large Chinese-American population.

“At the same time, whoever is elected to the seat has to be a representative for all residents in the San Gabriel Valley. And I feel I have a track record of working, building coalitions throughout the San Gabriel Valley.”

The 10 San Gabriel Valley cities in the 49th District are Alhambra, Arcadia, Monterey Park, Rosemead, San Gabriel, San Marino, Temple City and portions of El Monte, Montebello and South El Monte.

Fong, 45, said he moved into District 49 about 2 1/2 years ago, but he noted that as a member of the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees, he has over time worked with several school districts in the 49th on dual-learning and job-training programs.

“I also have a record of working in local government for over 20 years in a variety of roles, whether it’s a workforce development policy, whether it’s a job-training program,” Fong said. “Also building community. I’ve done a lot of work in trying to build relationships in the community to have that open door, to be accessible.”

Brink’s beliefs, wants

Brink, 58, spent some 40 years in law enforcement, having been a cadet in high school. He responded quickly when asked why he is the best candidate for this seat, using that background to cement his belief.

“Well, I’m able to deal with all types of people,” he said. “In law enforcement, you’re dealing with politicians, you’re dealing with career criminals, you’re dealing with the down-and-outs, you’re dealing with the homeless, you’re dealing with your average mom and pop businesses.

“You have to be able to talk to all the different people. And being in law enforcement, you have to be able to do it — that type of communication — to complete your job.”

Writing legislation and enacting just laws is what one does in the Assembly. Brink touched on several subjects of concern — focusing on public safety and homelessness.

Like many, Brink is not happy with current Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon. As of July, 25 cities in the county had given him a no-confidence vote because of his directives that include cash bail reform to prevent unnecessary periods of pretrial confinement, declining to prosecute a variety of misdemeanor cases, eliminating sentencing enhancements in some cases, no longer opting for the death penalty and preferring diversion programs to incarceration for youth offenders.”

“We’ve got all the smash-and-grabs that are going on, you have the homicide rate in Los Angeles County that is up 94% in the last two years, you have inflation that’s up over 7 percent in the last year,” Brink said. “People in our community are feeling very unsafe.”

He hammered Gascon.

“We have a district attorney who is catering to the criminals — the career criminals, mind you — that know that they can continue to break the law and hurt our small businesses by stealing less than $950 each occurrence and all they’re going to get is a slap on the wrist with a ticket and that’s if they even show up to court in six months,” Brink said.

The answer is up north, he said.

“I think it’s time that people need to have a voice in Sacramento that’s going to fight for the protection of our community and make sure that we have our current laws being enforced,” Brink said. “They’re not being enforced by the DA — he is making his own rules.

“From Sacramento, we can make it a little more difficult for him to do so and I would be all for doing that as well as getting rid of Gascon since he’s not actually upholding his oath of office.”

Brink is also in favor of repealing Prop. 47, which was passed in 2014. It reduced certain felonies to misdemeanors.

California Assembly member Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) has introduced the bill, which has co-authors.

“I would be jumping on that 100%,” Brink said of the repeal of Prop. 47, which was designed to alleviate prison overcrowding.

As for homelessness, Brink said that a big key is making sure any funds made available to combat it are used wisely.

“There are programs that we need to make sure are used properly and funds are used properly,” he said. “Our funds need to be audited. Anything that government receives taxpayer money on to fund something should be audited statewide every year to make sure the funds are being used properly.”

Brink currently serves on the Arcadia Beautiful Commission and is a board member of Crime Survivors.

Among his hundreds of endorsements are L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, former L.A. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, former L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley, former California State Senator Mike Morrell, current California State Senator Melissa Melendez (R-CA) and Anthony Fellow, a member of the Pasadena City College board of trustees.

Burton’s list of endorsements also includes a lot of law enforcement as well as political backing from entities such as the Chinese American Alliance and Los Angeles Hispanic Republican Club. District 49 is currently 31.8% Hispanic.

Fong’s beliefs, wants

Fong focused a lot on education during an interview. Along with being on the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees — comprised of nine colleges — he attended East L.A. College, UCLA and CSUN.

“In terms of the 49th Assembly District, I’ve been very honored to have the support of over 200 local elected officials, state officials and community members in our journey for State Assembly District 49,” he said.

“And the work that I’ve done as a community college trustee for the Los Angeles Community College District, including East Los Angeles College here in the city of Monterey Park, we’ve done a lot of work together since then.”

He spoke of job-training programs that expand higher educational opportunities to make college more accessible and free. He also spoke in prideful tones about the recent agreement reached between Metro in conjunction with other transportation agencies, and the Los Angeles Community College District, to ride for free through the end of 2022.

Fong said he has a better life through education, and that is what he wants for all San Gabriel Valley residents.

“I’m very focused on education and looking at how we can continue to fund public education, how we can continue to improve our schools out here in the 49th,” he said.

His concerns for the 49th District run the gamut, however. He is worried about public health, public safety and homelessness and vows to do all he can to make improvements in those areas.

He specifically mentioned the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which in March will hit two years.

“In terms of issues in the 49th Assembly District, it’s protecting public health,” Fong said. “We know this pandemic has been very challenging these last two years, going on into its third year now. So looking how we can continue to protect public health and expand health care access.

“Also looking at how we can support small businesses as we come out of this pandemic as well and to help jobs and businesses recover as we come out of this pandemic. And also look at public safety issues to make sure we are keeping our residents safe.”

Fong wants to help homeless individuals, in caring fashion.

“We have to continue to look at how we can provide additional resources for mental health services,” he said. “As you know, I think it’s been very challenging during times of isolation, a lot of folks have been experiencing mental health crisis.

“So trying to find more resources for mental health issues. Also looking at how we can continue to get more permanent supportive housing, additional housing units.”

Fong said he wants to come through for San Gabriel Valley residents, and said he will pay attention to constituents offering ideas for new laws.

“I would really want to make sure and listen to the residents,” he said, “and if they have any ideas for legislation, I would want to entertain those ideas.”

Fong, who serves as Senior Management Analyst for the Los Angeles Housing Department and is also on the city of Alhambra Transportation Commission, also has listed hundreds of endorsements.

Among them are U.S. Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA), U.S. Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (D-CA), former Assemblyman Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park), U.S. Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA), California State Senator Susan Rubio (D-CA), L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis as well as dozens upon dozens of local elected officials and school board members.

Other backing includes the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus and Southern California Armenian Democrats.

MIKE FONG

  • Age: 45
  • High School: Bravo
  • College: ELAC, UCLA, CSUN
  • Marital status: Single
  • Party: Democrat

BURTON BRINK

  • Age: 58
  • High School: Arcadia
  • College: Rio Hondo
  • Marital status: Married, one son, 3 stepsons
  • Party: Republican