Feinstein in Chinatown

Luncheon address by U.S. senator speaks to Asian Pacific Islander concerns.



More than 200 local and national politicos, business- professional operatives and young aspirants filled the main dining zone at Empress Pavilion, and listened intently to a 30-minute speech and question session which ran the gamut of Feinstein's Asian-specific agenda.

A group of Asian Pacific American professional and political organizations hosted a policy briefing and informal lunch Thursday with U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein at a popular Chinatown restaurant.

Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Bill Lann Lee, second from left, smiles as Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.) calls for his confirmation during a luncheon in L.A.'s Chinatown Thursday, July 8, 1999.

To varying degrees of unintended humor, the former mayor of San Francisco spoke at length about the debacle surrounding the Democratic National Committee investigation into campaign donations; the renomination of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division acting Assistant Attorney General, Bill Lann Lee; the approaching Census count; and the most recent proliferation of hate crimes, including the Illinois-Indiana shooting spree in which two people were killed and nine wounded.

The loosely knit speech touched on the $59-billion trade imbalance with China; its rejection from the World Trade Organization, and the covert technology transfer/spy imbroglio surrounding an alleged security breach at a Los Alamos research plant, all to which Feinstein expressed concern about the singling out and scapegoating of Asian Pacific Americans. "Spying--that is a way of life," Feinstein said. "I think we need to clean up our own house, in this regard."

While surveying current issues and legislation, the second-term senator from San Francisco seemed to refrain from specifically self-serving mention of the approaching election year. Feinstein also said she considers the ongoing conflict on the Korea peninsula, and between Pakistan and India to be the world's "two single major flashpoints for violence." As she underscored the significance of the current federal budget surplus and basement-dwelling unemployment rates, referring to them as numerical proof of economic good times being enjoyed by (certain) Americans, Feinstein misspoke on the first of at least two subjects. While delivering a notably pumped-up exhortation on the nation's fiscally durable state came the malappropriate modifier: "... there hasn't been a solid-er economy!"

Several random segues later, Feinstein raised eyebrows with another inadvertent comment on diplomatic and economic relations around the Pacific Rim: "... we've seen the first educated leadership in the 5,000-year history of China."

Feinstein's self-acknowledged rare visit to Los Angeles' Chinatown was sponsored by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles, Korean American Chamber of Commerce, Indo American Business Assn., Japanese American National Museum, Korean American Coalition, Chinese Americans United for Self Empowerment and the Museum of Chinese and American History.

Minutes before Feinstein stepped to the podium, she was joined by Bill Lann Lee, who attended an earlier press conference to announce an investigation into the Riverside Police Department. Prompted by complaints of excessive force and racially discriminatory law enforcement practices, the investigation is being conducted jointly by the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney's office, Lee said while sneaking a few bites of dim sum as the Chinatown event wound down.

Also on Thursday, U.S. Attorney officials announced the creation of a new civil rights division, due to "significantly more cases" being brought to the attention of investigators. The division will be staffed by a supervisor, U.S. Attorney Michael Gennaco, and three other criminal and civil prosecutors.

As followed the 1991 beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, the Justice Department can seek a court order against a police department based on mismanagement, as has been alleged in the Riverside police handling of the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Tyisha Miller. Although the officers involved have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing, they were also fired from their positions, amid much publicized debate. The officers have appealed the terminations.

Among the audience members at Thursday's luncheon was a World War II veteran who presented Feinstein with a 5,000-signature petition supporting Pilipino-born soldiers who served in the U.S. military, and are importuning the federal government and Veteran's Administration for benefits which other retired soldiers receive.

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