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Mike Fong Holds Big Lead In Race for San Gabriel Valley Assembly Seat

Mike Fong is on the left half of the photo collage wearing a blue sports jacket and an open-collared shirt in front of a house. On the right is Burton Brink, wearing a black suit and tie in front of the California State Capitol.
Democrat Mike Fong (left) is ahead of Republican Burton Brink in the 49th Assembly District election tally.
(Photos courtesy of Mike Fong and Burton Brink )
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Democrat Mike Fong is far ahead in the race to fill the vacant seat in the 49th, California’s first assembly district where Asian Americans make up the majority of eligible voters.

Fong has so far picked up 68% of the vote in Tuesday’s special election, compared to 32% for his Republican rival, Burton Brink. The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder's Office, which has counted more than 34,000 ballots, plans to resume the tally on Friday.

If Fong’s lead holds as expected in the Democrat-leaning district, he will succeed former Assembly member Ed Chau as the fourth Asian American to represent the 49th, which includes Alhambra, Arcadia and Monterey Park.

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For the past decade, the 49th has been the only state district, Assembly or Senate, to have a majority of Asian American voters — about 53%.

The seat in the 49th district came open when Chau resigned his post last December after Gov. Gavin Newsom tapped him to serve as a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge.

Fong’s campaign declared victory Tuesday night, about a half-hour after polls closed at 8. In an interview, Fong, who works for the city of L.A. as a policy director supporting neighborhood councils, said his priorities as an Assembly member would be to keep neighborhoods safe, to assist small businesses as they recover from the pandemic, and to make more spots available at California’s public universities.

“It's critical that we continue to look at how we can expand opportunities at the University of California and at the California State University system to make sure that students from the San Gabriel Valley have the opportunity to apply for these institutions,” said Fong, an Alhambra resident who sits on the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees.

Brink, an Arcadia resident and retired sergeant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, declined to comment on the race’s outcome, pending a final tally, noting the district has nearly 240,000 registered voters.

Tuesday’s special election would have served as a primary had there been more candidates. But because Brink and Fong were the only two, there is no need to hold a run-off election.

Another Fong Versus Brink Showdown Is Coming

Expect another showdown between Fong and Brink soon, however. Tuesday’s contest was to determine who would finish out the remainder of Chau’s term, which expires Dec. 5. The rivals say they both plan to seek a full term in this November’s election.

Brink, who’s run twice before in the 49th against former assembly member Chau, says he will continue to campaign on government accountability and public safety. He supports a recall of Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, who he says is not hard enough on criminals. Brink said he would also stand up for victims of anti-Asian hate.

“It blows my mind [that] people think the COVID virus is all the American Asians’ fault,” Brink said. “I believe it came from Asia, but it has nothing to do with the people that are here.”

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The 49th is home to seven Asian-majority cities, including San Gabriel, Rosemead and Temple City.

Because of their large numbers, Asian American voters in the San Gabriel Valley have the political clout to elect officials “who understand the concerns of that community and go to Sacramento and fight for that,” said Deanna Kitamura, a senior staff attorney who works on voting rights for the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco.

Kitamura said the 49th became the first Assembly district where Asians make up the majority of its voting-age citizens after statewide redistricting in 2011. But it is no longer the only one.

The latest round of redistricting completed late last year, she said, has created a second Assembly district with this majority, the 24th. It includes the Bay Area cities of Fremont and Milpitas.

The 49th will stay largely intact after redistricting, with a few changes. South Pasadena has been added to the 49th while Montebello has been moved into a neighboring Assembly district, the 54th.

Have a question about Southern California's Asian American communities?
Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of those growing communities in Southern California.