Abe-Koga, Kamei become Mountain View mayor and vice mayor

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — On Jan. 7, newly elected Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga and Vice Mayor Ellen Kamei likely became the first women of Japanese descent to hold the top two elected offices in any city in the continental United States.

TOP OFFICIALS — Mountain View Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga (left) and Vice Mayor Ellen Kamei were elected Jan. 7. photo by Derek Tahara/Nichi Bei Weekly

“It’s certainly a huge source of pride for me,” Abe-Koga said in a phone interview with the Nichi Bei Weekly. “To have a mayor and a vice mayor that’s Japanese American, I think that’s very telling and it does say that we have come a long way and we should be proud of that.”

The City Council elected both politicians unanimously at its meeting.

Abe-Koga, whose parents immigrated from Japan to the United States, was raised in San Mateo before moving to Mountain View in 1998, her biography on the city’s Website states. The Harvard University alum was a Congressional aide to U.S. Rep. Anna Eschoo from 1993 to 1999, and more recently served two terms on the City Council from 2007 to 2015, as vice mayor in 2008 and mayor in 2009.

Kamei echoed Abe-Koga’s pride in their accomplishments.

“I think it’s something really special and unique,” Kamei said. “It’s also a really great opportunity for the API communities to see women involved in public service and in government.”

Kamei’s mother is “first generation Chinese and Puerto Rican American,” and her Sansei father was born in the Heart Mountain, Wyo. concentration camp, her Website states. Kamei grew up on the family’s flower nursery. Her mother, Rosemary Kamei, has more than 30 years of public service, including serving on the Santa Clara County Board of Education, and helped inspire her to become involved in public service.

“She’s been an example as a strong woman of color being involved in public service,” Kamei said of her mother.

Kamei grew up attending community fundraisers and volunteer events with her mother. With time, she realized how influential the elder Kamei was on her public service career.

The new vice mayor has been a member of the New Generation Nikkei Fund, an Asian American philanthropy organization, for the past six years. The organization was started because of the loss of Nisei in each of the three remaining Japantowns: San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Jose.

Dale Minami, the president of CAPA21, an Asian American Pacific Islander political action committee based in San Francisco, commented on the significance of two Japanese American women being elected as mayor and vice mayor.

“To see two Japanese Americans and women is pretty remarkable and exciting,” the civil rights attorney and co-founder of Minami-Tamaki LLP, said.

Abe-Koga, whose term lasts for a year, would like to help inspire the next wave of Asian American politicians. Norman Mineta, the former United States Secretary of Transportation was “one of (Abe-Koga’s) biggest heroes.” Abe-Koga mentored Kamei through the New Leaders Council, a leadership training program.

Abe-Koga and Kamei hope the new year will see Asian Americans growing more involved with the political processes. They both emphasized that Asian Americans can be a part of the change. It’s especially vital for young people to spark change, Abe-Koga said.

“My hope is that 2020 will be of excitement and people will want to get engaged and that they realize they see people who look like them that they can be a part of the change and decision-making body,” Kamei stated.

“I want to make a better future for our kids and the next generations, and make sure everyone has a voice in the process,” Abe-Koga said.

The four main issues Abe-Koga and Kamei will aim to improve are: housing, environmental sustainability, serving the vulnerable populations and transportation.

Housing is one of the greatest issues facing Mountain View. Abe-Koga said one of the concerns is “the missing middle,” or people in the moderate income category. Mountain View will add an additional 15,000 housing units, Abe-Koga said.

Environmental sustainability is another significant city issue Abe-Koga and Kamei plan to tackle. The city is moving toward becoming carbon-free and the city council plans to reduce the city’s carbon emissions.

“We just passed building codes, where we’re going to be requiring all new buildings to be electric, trying to move away from natural gas,” Abe-Koga said in a phone interview with the Nichi Bei Weekly.

The city will also encourage more electric vehicle use by installing more charging stations and requiring new buildings to have chargers, Abe-Koga said.

Abe-Koga and Kamei will aim to better serve vulnerable populations, which includes immigrants, by providing them with more language access, workshops and information. The city has increased its staff in the bilingual services department, Abe-Koga said.

Abe-Koga and Kamei will also evaluate the state of transportation. Abe-Koga said the city has a transportation management agency that requires companies that are expanding to join the agency and work together to come up with transit options. Another possibility for improving the city’s transportation is “repurposing the light rail for something more technologically advanced.” However, Abe-Koga said she wants to do a review to see how the city could condense some of the services into one.

Back in 2009, when Abe-Koga was initially sworn in as mayor amid the Great Recession, she was tasked with assessing policies to keep and making cuts. This time around, there is an economic boom. Nevertheless, Abe-Koga pledges to do what’s best for the city.

“I look forward to doing my best and working my hardest to do right in this seat and continue to make Mountain View the great place that it is,” Abe-Koga said in her speech at the city council meeting.

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