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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.