CERRITOS — Mayor Daniel Wong, physician, political candidate, and lover of the limelight, has launched his own talk show on a multilingual television station, choosing--a week before the City Council elections--to air a program profiling the city and its leaders in laudatory terms.
While state election officials indicate there is nothing improper about Wong's television appearances, the Cerritos show, scheduled for broadcast three times this week on KSCI Channel 18, has prompted various reactions from Wong's council opponents. Some didn't know about the program and, once informed, didn't care. Others were incensed, complaining that Wong is misusing his office and embarrassing the city. Wong, who is running for a third term, says his show is simply the outgrowth of his continuing interest in television. "I have been all along on TV, doing public service all along," said Wong, who previously appeared on a Channel 18 health show.
He added that he started preparing for the talk show last fall, before he knew he would run again, and said the scheduling of the Cerritos show had nothing to do with the election.
"It just so happened I started a program," he said, adding that it was only natural to pick as one of his first topics something in which he has pride. "Everybody can see how great the city of Cerritos is. . . . This is something that is great, that everybody can enjoy."
Still, the Cerritos show is prominently featured in a campaign flyer Wong mailed to residents this week. "Seeing is believing," declares the mailer, continuing:
"The first of its kind! There has never been a mayor and a physician who produced, directed, and hosted a T.V. show featuring his beautiful city on air to promote civic pride and value--not anywhere in the world. Mayor Daniel Wong has done it for the City of Cerritos, and her residents."
Because Wong is a political candidate, the station must, under federal regulations, offer equal time at an equal rate to any of Wong's opponents who ask for it. So far, only one challenger, Planning Commissioner Sherman Kappe, has done that. However, Kappe said he wants free time and cannot afford to pay for an appearance on the station, which broadcasts ethnic programming to an estimated 1.5 million viewers living in six Southern Californian counties stretching from Ventura to the Mexican border.
Station manager Rosemary Fincher said Channel 18 programmers knew Wong was involved in an election and are fully prepared to sell air time to other candidates in the race. But since Wong paid an disclosed sum for the program, she said, the station is under no obligation to give his challengers a free appearance.
Wong recently signed a year-long contract with the station to broadcast the half-hour, weekly show called "Eyes on You," which he produces, directs and hosts. Aimed at Chinese-Americans, the bilingual program will deal with matters of community interest, Wong says. Last week's program debut concerned the federal government's amnesty program for illegal immigrants.
The Los Angeles-based station acts as a broker, selling blocks of air time to producers of programs in more than a dozen different languages. Wong estimated his production and air time costs would amount to between $5,000 and $10,000 a month. Fincher indicated an afternoon slot could be purchased for less than $1,000, while a prime time showing would cost "thousands."
Although candidate George Marsh said Wong's show doesn't bother him in the least, Chris Fuentes complained that Wong is grandstanding and ignoring the spirit, if not the letter, of the law in featuring a favorable report on Cerritos days before the election.
Moreover, Fuentes' brother and campaign manager, Chuck Fuentes, says he plans to file a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission asking for an investigation of whether Wong violated election laws by failing to label as political a newspaper advertisement for the program.
"I did not use campaign funds to pay for that," Wong said, adding that the advertisement was purchased by his production company, Chinese American Television (CATV), and his crew, CP.G. Production. "It's a promotion by a TV company."
Wong acknowledged that his campaign fund has contributed to CATV, but said the donation was not intended for any specific company expenses.
A spokesman for the political practices commission said the FPPC did not concern itself with newspaper advertising, and a spokesman for the secretary of state's office said the advertisement did not appear to violate election laws, since it did not fit the legal definition of a political advertisement. "We don't see a problem," assistant media director Melissa Warren said.