Leilani Kimmel-Dagostino (wearing lei) with supporters on election night in Torrance. At right is Mayor Pat Furey. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)
By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
TORRANCE — In a six-way race for three seats on the Torrance City Council on June 7, Milton Herring, a member of the city’s Planning Commission and a retired Army chaplain, became the first African American elected to the council with 11,047 votes (21.33 percent).
He was followed by two incumbents, Geoff Rizzo with 10,951 (21.15 percent) and Mike Griffiths with 10,436 (20.15 percent). Both Herring and Griffiths were council candidates in 2014, and Griffiths was subsequently appointed to fill a vacancy on the council.
Leilani Kimmel-Dagostino, a member of the Commission on Aging, finished fourth with 7,640 (14.75 percent), followed by Genghmun Eng with 7,466 (14.42 percent) and Asam Sheikh with 4,248 (8.20 percent). Kimmel-Dagostino, who would have been the first Asian American woman on the council, also ran in 2014.
An endorsement from Mayor Pat Furey may have been a factor in her fourth-place finish, since his 2014 campaign was fined by the state Fair Political Practices Commission for hiding illegal campaign contributions in concert with a supposedly independent political action committee funded by McCormick Ambulance Services and the Torrance Firefighters PAC, according to The Daily Breeze.
Furey told the newspaper that the Fair Political Practices Commission’s action was “pushed through by some political enemies of mine.”
The City Council also took steps to remove Patrick Furey, the mayor’s son, from the Traffic Commission. The younger Furey, who ran his father’s mayoral campaign, resigned before a vote could be taken.
Kimmel-Dagostino told The Daily Breeze at the time, “We need to move on. It’s really distracting from the business of running the city. I do believe in the mayor … People do make mistakes.”
She was also dogged by allegations that she was not as involved in the Japanese American community as she said she was.
Jon Kaji, a Torrance resident, president of Kaji & Associates and Rafu columnist, commented, “My own concerns expressed in the June 7 primary reflected those of others in Torrance regarding Ms. Kimmel-Dagostino’s candidacy for City Council. The question for any candidate is whether their public disclosure of community service, endorsements or leadership positions were both factual and truthful.
“In the final analysis, it was the responsibility of each voter in Torrance to fully vet each candidate’s credentials, including Ms. Kimmel Dagostino, and determine for themselves if the claims met the threshold for truthfulness and honesty. The same standard holds true for all candidates, regardless of ethnicity, age or gender.”
Referring to a profile of the candidate published in The Rafu Shimpo on May 14, Kaji added, “Many of us viewed the Rafu Shimpo article as ‘huffing and puffing,’ an intentional effort to burnish the candidates’ credentials in the hope of gaining support from the significant Asian American voter base in Torrance. Subsequent blogs and articles pointed out discrepancies in her claims.”
One critic said that she incorrectly listed the Torrance Sister City Association as the “Kashiwa Sister City Organization” and falsely claimed to be a leader of and/or endorsed by that group and others.
Kimmel-Dagostino, who volunteers with the TSCA’s annual Bunka Sai, told The Daily Breeze, “I never said I was in any sort of leadership capacity with the sister-city organization… That [being a volunteer]shows leadership even though I may not be on the board of directors. In some small way, I’m helping them.”
In a statement to The Rafu, Kimmel-Dagostino attributed her defeat to “a vicious hate campaign that was waged against me in the last three weeks of the campaign.”
“It all started [when]The Daily Breeze published … a story filled with inaccurate information about me,” she said. “It continued on with three more inaccurate articles and was followed by a paid advertising campaign by a hater on Facebook to all Torrance residents that I was a liar and a fake because I lied to The Rafu Shimpo about the associations I was involved with.
“Then when I received endorsements from [Rep.] Maxine Waters, [former Assemblymember]Al Muratsuchi, [State Sen.] Ben Allen and several other prominent Democratic leaders, the salvo started because it was impossible that Democrats would endorse a Republican person. This was orchestrated by members of the Republican clubs that I belonged to.
“Another blog started up with questions about my fundraising, which was all perfectly legal and documented in my 460 reports …
“I think the final insult was that The Daily Breeze kept publishing a racist photo of me with all the stories about the campaign. If you examine all the other five candidates’ photos, they are all nice studio photos or stock photos taken at forums. When I complained about the selection of the photo, they would not do anything about it until the election was over.
“I reason I objected to this photo was that several Japanese people who were imprisoned in camps during World War II said it reminded them of some of the caricatures that were done by the media to make fun of us. They said all that was needed in the photo was a set of buck teeth and a pair of round glasses to be a complete mockery.
“Finally, when I contacted the editor of The Daily Breeze expressing my concern because of this interpretation, they removed it and replaced it with a stock photo of me that I had given them early in the campaign to use like all the other candidates did. By then the damage was already done and it was too late because any people who saw the old photo and were deciding who to vote for would not cast their vote for someone who looked like the Wicked Witch of the East.
“I could not believe how nasty this campaign turned out to be … It just goes to show you that Torrance still does not want Asians on the City Council, let alone an Asian woman. Even The Daily Breeze kept publishing that the Asian population was not supporting me, even though this was not true.”
Kimmel-Dagostino, whose term on the Commission on Aging ends Jan. 31, 2017, has indicated that she will no longer be involved in local politics.