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Wilma Chan

Alameda board appoints Chan’s chief of staff to fill seat

on November 16, 2021

On Tuesday, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors held its first meeting without Wilma Chan, the beloved District 3 representative who was fatally struck by a car Nov. 3 near her Oakland home.  

A bouquet of flowers adorned her empty seat. Tearful laments were followed by a strenuous debate over who should fill that seat.

Three of the four supervisors voted to appoint Dave Brown, Chan’s chief of staff, to serve in a caretaker role for the remainder of her term, until the midterm elections in June. Vice President Nate Miley abstained.

Dave Brown
Dave Brown (Ruth Dusseault)

All the supervisors expressed the need for Asian American Pacific Islander representation on the board. Some members of the public, including Serena Chen, president of the Asian Pacific American Democratic Caucus, suggested alternative appointments. 

Chan was a groundbreaker for women of color.  She was the first Asian American to serve on the board and as majority leader in the California State Assembly. 

The clock was ticking on filling Chan’s seat. Considering another candidate and getting them appointed would have taken at least a week. And later Tuesday, the county was to begin redrawing electoral district boundaries, which is done every 10 years to account for population shifts revealed in the census. 

“If we don’t make this appointment now, there will be nobody here tonight to represent during the redistricting,” Supervisor Richard Valle said, “Nobody.”

His concerns were echoed by Brown, who underlined the importance of having representation for District 3 before the final map is chosen.

Brown has worked for Chan for more than 15 years, including six as her chief of staff. He helped coordinate many of Chan’s health and equity initiatives. 

“I know well her values and principles and how she makes decisions. I am confident that I can best carry forward her legacy,” Brown said, “I want to stress that I will not run for election to the board seat in the June primary. In fact, I cannot.”

Brown moved his home to District 3 last weekend. He qualifies for the appointment, but not for the candidacy. His residency period will not be long enough for him to qualify to run in June. 

“I am the only viable caretaker that couldn’t possibly change his or her mind about running,” he said.

Public support for Brown’s appointment included letters and statements from state and city elected officials. He also received support from Chan’s son Daren Chan, as well as the Alameda Labor Council, the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, the Unity Council, and the Brotherhood of Elders Network and African American Response Circle. 

Highlighting Chan’s legacy, county administrators and members of the public listed her many acts of service, including saving San Leandro Hospital and the Native American Health Center. 

“Wilma taught us a lot,” her staff said in a statement. “She taught us to be good teammates and to care deeply about the people we represent. She taught us to never take no for an answer, to be polite but persistent. And if you encounter a problem, just figure it out.”

To honor Chan’s memory, the board passed a resolution to establish the Supervisor Wilma Chan Legacy Fund. Donations can be made at acgov.org.  

There will be a public memorial service at 2 p.m. on Dec. 8 at the Oakland Museum.

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