SAN FRANCISCO -- The reverberations of the arrest of California State Sen. Leland Yee can be felt from San Francisco to Southern California, where Chinese-language newspaper World Journal reports that it set off an “earthquake” in the Chinese community.
Chinese media coverage of Yee's arrest Wednesday on bribery and public corruption charges focused on the reactions of community leaders. Some didn’t believe Yee was involved in corruption and questioned whether the scandal was the result of a political conspiracy. Others expressed doubts about Yee’s integrity but said they would not make any comments until the investigation was complete. But all community members interviewed in the Chinese media expressed their disappointment over the indictment of a man they say was a close ally of the Chinese community.
“Today is a sad day,” Chinese elected officials in the South Bay told the Sing Tao Daily.
State Assemblymember Paul Fong told the newspaper that he was shocked to hear the news. Fong said Yee’s charges could put an end to his political career but that Yee deserves a chance to defend himself. He added that most Chinese officials are law-abiding, and said he hopes Yee’s scandals won’t negatively impact the Chinese community’s image.
San Jose City Councilmember Kansen Chu, who has known Yee since Yee served for Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI), told Sing Tao Daily that Yee has been “closely involved with Chinese community,” adding that he should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
In Southern California, several leaders in the Chinese community, who have known Yee for years but asked that their names be withheld, told the World Journal that they wondered if Yee’s arrest was a political conspiracy. One said he did not believe Yee would commit such a serious crime. “As far as I know Yee, he is low-key, simple, and enthusiastic about helping the Chinese community,” he told the paper.
“I believe in Yee’s integrity," said one other, noting he has known Yee for more than 10 years and has helped Yee with his campaign in Southern California. "He has helped Chinese Americans to fight for more rights. Since the scandal happened so close to his election, I wondered if it’s an conspiracy to stop Yee from running his campaign [for Secretary of State]."
The Sing Tao Daily interviewed Frank Hong, a Chinese community leader who was supposed to meet Yee Wednesday in Hong’s apartment in the South Bay to help Yee prepare for the election. Hong said he was shocked to learn the news from Yee’s campaign assistant. He told the Sing Tao that he has known Yee for more than a decade and believes in him.
Hong said he has helped Yee with election fundraising and said that Yee and his team required all contributions to be filled out and listed clearly on the forms. “My first impression of Yee was that he was hard-working, law-abiding, honest and had integrity,” said Hong, adding that he wondered if the scandal could be the work of Yee’s political opponents.
“Yee has maintained a great relationship with the Chinese community, and Yee has dedicated himself to help Chinese,” Hong said.
Yee, who was born in China and immigrated to the United States as a child with his family, was elected in 1988 to the San Francisco Unified School Board. He was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1992 and 10 years later to the State Assembly.
Yee has been a staunch advocate of the Chinese community throughout his career. In 2005, he backed a bill to ensure that patients’ medical records included their language. He opposed the bill that banned the sale of shark fins, claiming that it was "an attack on Asian culture." In 2011, he took on conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, demanding an apology for making racist remarks mocking the Chinese language.
This year, Yee voted in favor of an amendment to the state constitution that asks California voters to repeal provisions of Proposition 209 and permit state universities to consider an applicant's race, ethnicity or national origin in making admissions decisions. But after strong opposition to the bill from Asian Americans, Yee, along with Senators Carol Liu and Ted Lieu, jointly issued a statement on February 27, calling for the bill to be withheld pending further consultations with the "affected communities."
Yee has been released on bail and plans to plead not guilty to corruption charges.
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