Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 3 (excerpt #26)

Talking with students during my 2008 campaign for the high school board (campaign photo)
Talking with students during my 2008 campaign for the high school board
(campaign photo)

Blogger’s note: The following passage is the final installment of Chapter 3: “Redemption” from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. ” Summer in the Waiting Room will take a three-week hiatus and resume on Wednesday, July 8th.


My professional career and political prospects were progressing well in 2008.  I had the privilege of attending the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, as a Comcast executive and witnessed history when Senator Barrack Obama accepted the nomination of his party for president of the United States.  The general election of 2008 would also be the testing ground for my potential run at higher office.  I was an incumbent school board member who had an admirable, if not distinguished, record on the school board running for election to keep the seat to which I had been appointed.

I had secured the endorsement of the teacher’s union, my colleagues on the board, the San Jose Mercury News, and nearly every politician who served residents in San Jose.  I also amassed more campaign funds than the other candidate.  With this profile, winning election seemed to be assured.  There was one problem. My opponent was a former longtime trustee who had name recognition as a school board member.

When the votes were counted on election night, November 4, 2008, Barrack Obama became the first black president in the history of the United States, and I had I lost again.  Over the course of twelve years, I had attempted to win election to public office four times and earned the trust of financial supporters and volunteers, but emerged with no victories.  My political career was in tatters.

That same election, a longtime friend, George Shirakawa, ran for and was elected to the county board of supervisors.  Right after his election, he asked me to consider leaving Comcast to join his team as chief of staff.  We made a great team on the school board and George persuaded me that we could make a big difference working together at Santa Clara County. I would have to take a large pay cut, but I would be home every night and would not have to travel across the nation.

Even though I was dejected by the results of my election, I was looking forward to a new venture helping George assemble his staff and leading a team that could make a positive impact in the community. Also, the day after Election Day, the new president of the school board invited me to breakfast and encouraged me to apply for the appointment of the seat vacated by George as a result of his election to the county board of supervisors.  Demoralized, I couldn’t imagine putting myself through that pain again.  But the pain of failure cut deeper, and after a long talk with Sandra and some personal soul-searching. I accepted the challenge and was reappointed to the board of trustees two months later.

I was busy at the start of 2009 setting up the supervisor’s office and seeking opportunities to be an effective school board trustee.  The pace at the county board of supervisors was slow compared to the hustle of the corporate world, so I added another major project to my plate.  I was part of a group that started a leadership academy to help professional Latinos develop community leadership skills.  It was going to be a busy schedule, but I didn’t have to travel anymore. I would be able to spend time with my family and sleep in my own bed every night.

On the school board, the opportunity to make my mark came immediately. Before I began my second appointed tenure, the board unanimously voted to close a budget shortfall by eliminating after-school sports to the outrage of the community.  The final decision would be made later in the spring when I was back on the board.  I believed deeply in the value of extracurricular athletics as it had been a great experience for me in high school.

Despite vigorous opposition by the teachers union, I supported student-athletes, parents, and the community by hosting town hall meetings, writing an op-ed article in the newspaper, and meeting with my colleagues and other influential people in the community to persuade them to save sports.  In late May 2009, the board voted 4-1 to maintain the after-school sports program. I had the momentum I needed to position myself for a strong election campaign to earn my appointed seat in 2010.


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