Will City Council’s Bigotry Toward Elaine Chao Cost LA Millions?

@THE GUSS REPORT-Virtually everything done at the Los Angeles City Council is through a prism of “what-are-you-ism” such as your race, ethnicity, gender and orientation rather than through logic, pragmatism, fairness and the issue at-hand.

But in the case of Elaine Chao, President Trump’s Cabinet Secretary for the Department of Transportation, the LA City Council condemned her appointment in February 2017 despite her stunning qualifications for the job and her remarkable American success story. 

And doing so might soon pointlessly cost LA millions of dollars that it is seeking from Washington, D.C., for what may or may not be a noble transportation project. 

On February 3, 2017, the LA City Council objected across the board to the appointment of all of President Trump’s Cabinet nominees, including Elaine Chao, as I wrote at that time in my CityWatch column entitled, “LA City Council Gets an “F” on Current Events, and It Could Be Costly.” 

In it, I wrote: 

I pointed out to City Council president Herb Wesson that for a city seeking the Olympics and in desperate need of infrastructure for it, it is not a good idea to oppose Elaine Chao as Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Transportation -- especially since she, too, was already approved, sworn-in and on the job. And one more thing: she is married to Mitch McConnell, the all-powerful U.S. Senate majority leader; not a good guy to piss-off. 

Aside from that, the blurb on City Council’s agenda condemning Chao erroneously reads that Chao’s appointment as Secretary of Transportationwould, among other things, negatively impact “the rights of employees” and “a fair minimum wage.” 

Huh? Since when does the Department of Transportation handle what the Department of Labor and Congress do? 

Whoever wrote these blurbs for City Council may have tried to do their homework but got it completely wrong. 

Chao was the 24th Secretary of Labor for President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009, the longest tenure in that role since WWII. And she was the Director of the Peace Corp. And she was the President and CEO of United Way. And she has a Harvard MBA. And she was the first Asian female ever to serve in a presidential cabinet. She came to the United States at age 8 from Taipei, Taiwan, not speaking a word of English and grew to personify the American Dream. 

That speaks volumes. LA City Council took an unfair and hostile position against an American immigration success story, while otherwise breathlessly supporting immigrants of all backgrounds.

Ultimately, after condemning Chao’s appointment, the LA City Council removed Chao’s name from the agenda item – at my sole urging them to do so – and unanimously condemned everybody else, because money speaks louder than causes, and not necessarily because it was unseemly to condemn this Asian-American woman’s success story. Still, its kneejerk intent to erroneously condemn Chao is memorialized on this screenshot from that day’s agenda. 

And as I had pointed out in that column, it could wind up being a costly, pointless mistake by City Hall. 

Fast-forward to an August 3, 2018 agenda item from LA City Councilmember Mike Bonin, who had stated no objection to condemning Chao’s appointment, authorizing Los Angeles Department of Transportation to apply for funding from the Federal Transit Administration Bus and Bus Facilities Infrastructure Investment Program, or specifically: 

AUTHORIZE the LADOT to apply for and accept up to $6.2 million in funding from the Federal Transit Administration 5339(b) Bus and Bus Facilities Infrastructure Investment Program, and to execute any agreements necessary for the Electrification of LADOT Transit Facilities Program to upgrade and improve three bus maintenance facilities to charge battery-electric buses. 

Guess who? 

Yes, the Federal Transit Administration is an agency within the United States Department of Transportation, which is run by Elaine Chao. Whatever happens with the grant application, we will never know whether LA City Council’s dismissiveness toward her played a role. 

But if LA does not get the grant, we will wonder. And whether that outcome would change how City Council unfairly condemns people in the future, remains to be seen.


(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has contributed to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, Movieline Magazine, Emmy Magazine, Los Angeles Business Journal and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. Join his mailing list or offer verifiable tips and story ideas at TheGussReport@gmail.com. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.