Friday, April 6, 2012

Barry’s Comments Parallel Past Faleomavaega Rants

Comments by former mayor--now District of Columbia City Councilman--Marion Barry have touched off a firestorm that has forced the controversial politician to walk them back. Shortly after winning the Democratic nomination this week for another term on the Council, Barry said “We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops,” with TV news cameras rolling. “They ought to go. I’ll just say that right now, you know. But we need African American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”

Although even long term allies have rebuked Barry, he likely would find an ally in American Samoa Congressional Delegate Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS), who himself has decried the proliferation of Asian-owned businesses in American Samoa.

On Dec. 27, 2007, Radio New Zealand International reported that Faleomavaega “is calling on local residents to start running their businesses themselves. The congressman says Asian business owners are operating companies that are licensed to local people.” He went on to say “the day will come when native American Samoans of Samoan ancestry will be the ones cleaning the streets, working in low paying jobs, while those of Asian ancestry are in control of both the government and private sector. If this happens in the future, no one else should be blamed but our own leaders and people who make this happen.”

Samoa News wrote he also admitted that he had raised this issue for many years with local leaders regarding the high number of Asians coming into the territory and asked for the government to review local laws and make necessary revisions.

Indeed, earlier, in May, 2003, Faleomavaega went so far as to ask for a U.S. General Accounting Office investigation of Asian business in the territory. Although in a Samoa News story he insisted it was not a “witch hunt,” it certain sounds like one. Whenever someone says a duck is not a duck, even though it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a good sign he knows you are going to think it’s a duck because it IS a duck.

Read carefully: "There appears to be a lack of cohesion in the local business community," he was quoted as saying in the 2003 article in a remark reminiscent of President Jimmy Carter’s comment about “ethnic purity.” "The Territory has seen the creation of Korean, Chinese and Filipino Chambers of Commerce which has led to questions regarding the equality of business opportunities in the Territory and whether uniform business standards apply."

He went on to say that “foreigners” operating their own Chambers of Commerce outside of the American Samoa Chamber of Commerce, "gives a clear indication that our business community is not together."

"I don't see anything positive about it except that every faction is going after what is out there for themselves without collective efforts as a business community as a whole," he concluded, without waiting even waiting for his GAO study to begin let alone end.

It is no small irony, of course, that even a cursory review of Faleomavaega’s campaign donation reports over the years reveals an unusually high percentage of contributors with Asian names, mostly clustered in California far from American Samoa news reports. In fact, his huge Asian donor base became a campaign issue one year.

Barry’s remarks were roundly condemned by Washington local civic and political leaders of all stripes, including Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), who said she “was stunned by the offensive nature of the comments” and called Barry immediately, according to The Washington Times and said she reminded him of their values and lengthy relationship, which included fighting for racial justice in the South.

There is no record of Norton similarly condemning her congressional colleague Faleomavaega after his outbursts in American Samoa but, in fairness, it is not her constituency and she undoubtedly was unaware of what he said in any event. After the initial local stories in American Samoa, there was no local outcry among leaders or local people and there was no follow up by the media, which is not unusual.

Much like ProPublica’s story this week of Faleomavaega’s relationship to a Washington lobbyist for Bahrain and Kazahkstan interests, the story had no legs and dropped like a stone into a bottomless well: no splash.

Faleomavaega this week drew his first 2012 election challenger, a retired army warrant officer working at the local junior college who got something like six or seven percent of the vote when she ran against him in 2008. She is not likely to comment and if she does, the local media likely will not report it. Nor will the local media seek her out for comment. No one ever accused American Samoans of being politically correct.

Sorry, folks. If you don’t read it here, you won’t read it anywhere. That’s just the way it is.

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