VOLUME 28 NO. 7 | FEBRUARY 7 - 13, 2009


Big shoes to fill?
Sims departure leaves hole in Asian community

Last updated 2-5-09 at 2:24 p.m.

By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly

After 12 years, King County’s top politician is leaving his executive post to join the Obama administration as the next deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

An honorary member of Hop Sing Tong, a Chinese American fraternal organization, Sims has been an ally and voice for Asian Americans in Seattle. He is known for his diverse staff and his concentration on the issues regarding people of color, youth, and women.

During an interview with Northwest Asian Weekly Publisher Assunta Ng, Sims said the call came “out of the blue.” Prior to his nomination, rumors had been surrounding the topic, but Sims didn’t think much of it because those positions were often offered to congressional people. He never pursued a position in the cabinet, and he didn’t think that, at his level, he would get a nomination.

Though he was initially reluctant to accept the offer, Sims admits to Ng, “It’s hard to say no [to the president].”

Obama interviewed Sims in November in Chicago. In the 20-minute interview, Sims thought the president to be “brilliant” and “charismatic.” According to Sims, Obama was well informed and interviewed him on all the issues.

“Twenty minutes is a long time,” said Sims. As he was being interviewed, there was a long line outside the office where others were waiting for their interview.

Only Sims is going to move to Washington, D.C. His family will stay in Washington state. Sims has three sons, Douglas, Daniel, and Aaron, ages 21 to 31, with his wife, Filipino American Cayan Topacio. Sims plans to travel back and forth between Washington, D.C., and Seattle.

Brad Owen, the lieutenant governor of Washington state, said that it would be very positive for the state to have Sims in a higher position. “It will be very helpful if we have someone higher up in the Obama administration that knows our issues,” he said.

Jean Godden, a Seattle City councilmember, said, “It’s nice to have him at the cabinet-level to speak for us. I am disappointed because we don’t have more appointments from Washington [state].”

At the Lunar New Year Celebration, organized by Hop Sing Tong at the House of Hong Restaurant on Feb. 2, Sims said that he wanted to come back for the next Lunar New Year party. Guests reported being happy to hear him say that. Sims was there to read a proclamation, dubbing the day as Hop Sing Tong Day.

The party was the first instance in which Sims asked someone to join the stage with him to read a portion of a proclamation. Though many elected officials attended the event, Sims gave particular visibility to King County Council chair Dow Constantine, which lead to speculation that Constantine will have Sims’ approval as his successor, though Constantine has neither publicly confirmed nor denied whether he is interested in the job.

On Sims’ departure, Constantine said, “Ron has left a lasting imprint on King County. It will be good to have a friend of King County in the Obama administration.”

Inter*Im Executive Director Hyeok Kim points out Sims as being a voice for social and economic justice. “King County has been a strong funding partner in Inter*Im’s project in affordable housing,” said Kim. “It has provided lots of leadership on the issues.”

“Another initiative Ron started over a year is King County’s equity and social justice initiative,” Kim said. “It was influenced or inspired by work previously done at the county level around racial disproportional in our child welfare system as well as work done around health disparities in communities of color.” Kim thinks Sims has been a champion for quality health care and has used the executive’s office to create opportunities for the community to talk about health disparities — “especially the API communities,” he said.

Generally considered an ally for the API community, Sims has created funding for the Asian Counseling and Referral Services, the Wing Luke Asian Museum, the Chinatown gate, the Filipino Community Center, and the Center for Career Alternatives, among others. Sims was also the founder of Pista sa Nayon, a Filipino American community festival
Sims’ staff, though happy about the nomination, is concerned about their jobs after this year and whether the new King County executive would make diversity a priority. Sims’ current staff of 35 is comprised of seven Asians, nine Blacks, and three Latinos. His aide, Bengie Santos, has been with him for 20 years. Up until his nomination, Sims was planning to run for his fourth term in the upcoming November election.

As deputy secretary, Sims said he would run the day-to-day operations of the department, overseeing 8,500 employees and the annual budget of $39 billion. Whether Sims’ replacement can fill his shoes in Seattle’s Asian American communities remains to be seen. (end)

Assunta Ng contributed to this report.

Stacy Nguyen can be reached at stacy@nwasianweekly.com.

Photo Credit: King County Executive Ron Sims reaches over to draw irises on the eyes of a lion costume at Hop Sing Tong’s Lunar New Year Party on Feb. 2 at the House of Hong restaurant.

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