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Chamber President Resigns to Protest 'Anti-Asian' Vote

May 10, 1987|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

MONTEREY PARK — George Ricci has resigned as president of the Monterey Park Chamber of Commerce, charging that the chamber has broken faith with the Asian community by rejecting six of the seven Asians who ran for election to the Board of Directors.

Among those who lost in last month's election were Anthony J. Chien, who was in line to move up from chamber vice president to president in July if he had won a new term on the board, and David Ma, who has headed the chamber's Asian-American committee for the past year.

Ricci, who is white, and Chien and Ma, both born in China, said in separate interviews that the election results indicated an organized effort against Asian candidates.

"I think there were people behind the scenes trying to manipulate the vote," Ma said.

Ricci's resignation has left Chien as chamber president, but only until the new board takes office in July. He will be succeeded by Marion Williams, a swim school owner.

Williams said Ricci's interpretation of the election result reflects his own view and is not shared by other board members.

Williams said she saw no evidence of a campaign to keep Asians off the board. She said most chamber members simply voted for the candidates they knew or liked.

Carmela Sarni, chamber executive director, said several of the Asian nominees were newcomers to the community and that it was not surprising that they lost to better-known candidates.

Ma, who has served as an appointed member of the board and heads a firm that provides legal and financial advice to immigrants, said Asian members of the chamber have found themselves in a "Catch-22" situation. If they participate on a small scale in chamber activities, they are accused of lacking interest in the group, he said, but if they do a lot, they are accused of "trying to take over."

Williams, however, said she had been "thrilled with the super job" that Ma and Chien had done on chamber activities, voted for them and was disappointed that they were not elected.

Sees No Racism

"I don't understand why they were not elected," she said, insisting that she could see no racial implications. She noted that another incumbent director who is not Asian but had been heavily involved in chamber activities also lost.

Sixteen people ran for the eight seats available on the 24-member board. The only Asian elected was incumbent Stephen Tan, an insurance agent.

The new board will include at least five other Asians who were elected in earlier years and Chien, who will remain on the board as past president. In addition to the elected members, Williams will appoint two other board members for one-year terms. Elected board members serve for three years.

In a resignation statement that he read to the board April 28, Ricci said it was apparent that others do not share his belief that the chamber "should represent the full ethnic spectrum of the business community." Referring to the city's growing Asian population, he said the chamber "must represent the business community as it is now, not as it was in the past."

Although 60% of the city's businesses are Asian-owned, only one-fourth of the chamber's membership is Asian. The chamber has 370 members, including 250 businesses.

'Knives in Stomach'

Ricci, who runs a business consulting company, concluded his statement with best wishes to those with whom he had differed, but said: "You must understand that bias and discrimination ride with me like knives in my stomach. I abhor them and reject them. Perhaps I express myself too strongly, but that is how I feel."

In an interview, Ricci said the board election "appeared to denigrate the contributions made by Asian members to the chamber." And, he said, the chamber has "broken faith with a moral commitment to help assimilate the immigrant population into the community."

Ricci said he thought the chamber should not merely welcome Asian immigrants as members but should "use affirmative action--go out and beat the drums and ask people in."

The chamber in March tried to recruit Chinese members by conducting a social meeting in Mandarin. Ricci said some chamber members who are not Chinese attended the event and insisted on an English translation. Ricci said he regarded that action as "harassment" because it showed resistance to an aggressive effort to recruit Chinese members.

Approved by Board

Williams said she was unaware of objections to the Mandarin-language event and noted that it had been approved unanimously by the board. But, she said, the chamber should provide an interpretation in English for any event conducted in a foreign language.

In delivering his resignation, Ricci said he was stepping aside so that the new chamber board could have "some extra lead time" to get its new policies in place.

But Williams said the chamber is not changing its policy of welcoming all members, regardless of race.

"We recruit every business in town no matter what their ethnic origin," she said. "The more people we have in the chamber, the better voice we have in the community."

Williams said the board did not respond to Ricci's resignation statement at the time because he simply delivered it and left the meeting. She said Ricci was wrong in suggesting that the chamber might no longer aggressively recruit Asians.

'Take Exception'

"He mentions a change of policy that he can no longer go along with," Williams said, "and I take exception to that.

"The only change I see is that we are responsible people in what we say because we represent the entire chamber, not just ourselves. That's the change.

"As far as any other changes--no way. What we're here to do is serve the businesses . . . regardless of race or creed."

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