Politics is a calling for Evan Low

  • by Heather Tirado Gilligan
  • Tuesday June 24, 2008
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Campbell City Council member Evan Low. Photo: Rick<br>Gerharter
Campbell City Council member Evan Low. Photo: Rick

When Evan Low decided to run for a seat on the Campbell City Council at the age of 23, just two years after graduating from San Jose State University, his parents were worried.

"It's a dirty, thankless job," the Pride Parade grand marshal recalled at his family's objection.

Low didn't let the drudgery of politics or his family's worries distract him from his goal. In 2006, he became the youngest person ever elected to the city council in Campbell, a town of about 38,408 people in Santa Clara County. After two challenging years of work as a council member, he still sees politics as his calling.

"Politics is the ultimate form of public service," Low, now 25, said.

This sentiment is surprisingly optimistic given the difficulties that Low, an openly gay Asian American, faced during his campaign. Low recalled some public hostility that included hate mail from residents who didn't want a gay or an Asian council member.

Low, a fifth-generation Chinese American, takes particular pride in his position as the first Asian American elected to the city council in a county where Asian Americans account for one third of all residents.

His groundbreaking election stirred strong feelings in some residents. Letter writers accused Low of trying to impose a "Chinese agenda" or a "homosexual agenda" onto the city.

"I wasn't sure what a homosexual agenda was," Low said, sounding wry as he described the letters he received. "To paint City Hall rainbow colored?"

Low considers his points of difference �" including his age �" as assets in speaking for large segments of the public who might otherwise remain unheard. His election to city council despite such protests suggests that a majority of voters agree with him.

"Empowering the disenfranchised" is his first priority as a council member, Low said.

His plans for empowerment begin with keeping young people in Campbell by bringing affordable housing to the area, Low said, as he bemoaned the high housing costs that are driving young workers and families out of Silicon Valley.

"Folks can't afford to live in their homes," Low explained, citing his own experience as a city resident as a point of personal connection with his constituents, whose average age is 35.

"Someone like myself qualifies for low-income housing," Low said in exemplifying the dire lack of truly affordable housing in Silicon Valley. In Campbell, he noted, the average price of a home is $700,000.

"Other officials don't understand the realities today because they didn't have them when they were young," Low said.

Other top priorities for Low include domestic violence prevention and working to further LGBT rights, both issues that he said draw on his unique cultural perspective.

Low explained that domestic violence prevention is particularly difficult in immigrant communities. Campbell is home to significant Ethiopian, Latino, and Southeast Asian communities, Low said, and first generation immigrants are often reluctant to report domestic violence incidents to police. And when victims of domestic violence do report, he added, they often face language barriers that make them reluctant to turn to the police again, and make it difficult for them to secure the resources that they need.

"Domestic violence services are only in English," Low explained.

He's working with task forces in the South Bay to resolve these issues and make sure that people have the equal access to domestic violence prevention resources.

His colleagues in other cities praise his work.

"He's really fantastic," said Gilbert Wong, a Cupertino City Council member who serves with Low on domestic violence issues in Silicon Valley. Wong said that Low is known for the remarkable energy that he brings to his work, and for his generosity.

"I am an ally of the LGBT community," Wong explained. "And when I needed help from Evan in my campaign, he found a lot of people from the LGBT community to help me," including his campaign manager. Low's help helped him secure a narrow victory, as he won his seat by 35 votes, Wong said.

Asked how he feels about being elected by the community as a Pride Parade grand marshal, Low's response is no surprise, poised as he is by his life to connect to and serve several Bay Area communities. Low sees himself building bridges between the South Bay and San Francisco with his appearance in the parade.

"I'm kind of from the South Bay and some people feel a disconnect between Silicon Valley and San Francisco," said Low, who is glad that he was chosen to help bridge the gap.

"Being a grand marshal for San Francisco is an honor."