Northwest Asian Weekly
This month, the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation is celebrating women who have broken into a field that is heavily dominated by males — politics and government.
The Women of Color Empowered luncheon will be held at China Harbor Restaurant in Seattle on Friday, Sept. 25, at 11:30 a.m. The event honors women who are accomplished in their careers, who have contributed significantly to local communities of color, and who have inspired others to follow their lead.
At the event, audience members will hear honorees discuss how they got to where they are as well as receive important advice on how to achieve professional goals.
This event strives to motivate and inspire young women — to show them that anything is possible if they work hard toward a purpose. Continue reading to learn more about each honoree.
Seattle School Board Member
A graduate of Garfield High School, Mary Bass is the second generation of her family to fight for equality within the Seattle public school system. Her goal since being elected to the Seattle School Board in 2001 has been to increase academic opportunities for underprivileged youth and fight problems that lead to disproportional outcomes among students.
In addressing issues that adversely impact school communities, Bass draws on her own background in public policy and economics. She has a bachelor’s degree in economics, a master’s degree in public administration, and she currently works as a project manager with the King County Department of Transportation Traffic Engineering.
Bellevue City Council Member
Patsy Bonincontri earned her bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Southern California. She was an architect for more than 20 years and currently works at Puget Sound Energy as a facilities project manager. She spends much of her time volunteering at her own kids’ various school and sports programs.
Bonincontri was appointed to the Bellevue City Council in 2008. Since then, she has served as liaison to the arts commission, library board, and planning commission. She has also represented the city on the Growth Management Policy Board of the Puget Sound Regional Council, the Eastside Human Services Forum, and the King County committee aimed at helping the homeless.
Seattle School Board Member
For the past 30 years, Cheryl Chow has taken an active leadership role in the South Seattle community. As a teacher at Hamilton Middle School, Chow created the first sports program for young girls and began instructing the internationally acclaimed Seattle Chinese Girls Drill Team.
In 1990, Chow was elected to sit on the city council where she continued to make a difference through the Children and Families’ Levy as well as her work on the remodeling of five community centers: Garfield, Rainier, Meadowbrook, Delridge, and Bitter Lake.
Chow currently serves as a board member for multiple community organizations including First Place homeless transitional school, The YWCA, and Inter-Generational innovations.
Tukwila City Council President
Joan Hernandez is the current president of the Tukwila City Council. She has served on the council since 1987 and was elected president in 1990 and 2001. During this time, she has chaired the Transportation, Finance and Safety, Utilities, and Community Affairs and Parks committees.
Hernandez is involved in community activities and serves as chair of the Equity and Diversity Commission and the Regional Effort to Achieve Community Housing (REACH). She is also a member of the Suburban Cities Association and the Southwest King County Chamber of Commerce. She is married to Richard Hernandez and has one son, Eric.
Claudia Kauffman is the state senator for the 47th District of Kent. She was elected to the senate in 2006. She is vice chair of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee and serves on the Senate Human Services and Corrections, Transportation, and Rules committees.
Kauffman earned her degrees at the University of Idaho and Oglala Lakota College. She was raised in the Puget Sound area and currently resides in Kent. She is married to Larry Cordier and has three children.
Kauffman has also been a foster mother to 10 children.
Phyllis Kenney currently serves as a state representative for the 46th legislative district. She began her career as a community activist in the Yakima Valley and the Tri-Cities, where she was the cofounder of the Washington State Migrant Child Care Centers, the Educational Institute for Rural Families, and the Farm Workers Clinics.
Kenney was appointed to the Washington state legislature in January 1997 and is now serving her seventh term with the House. She chairs the House Committee on Community and Economic Development and Trade.
Through her legislative career, Kenney’s focus has been on economic development, quality and affordable health care, community safety, and compassion for the less fortunate.
Kenney has 10 children and 18 grandchildren.
Shoreline City Council Member
Doris McConnell was born in Pearl City, Hawaii. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Washington State University. She attended Western Washington University in the school’s psychology master’s program. She has also done post-graduate work at the University of Washington.
McConnell has been involved in community service through the Little League Board, Klahahya Swim and Tennis Club Board, Syre Playground Grant fundraiser, Richmond Beach Community Association, and Shoreline Public School District Advisory Committee. She also has work experience as an ATT computer room supervisor, at Boeing Airplane Company, as a school psychologist for Bremerton School District, a real estate agent, and a property manager.
King County Sheriff
Sue Rahr was born in Laramie, Wyo. After moving to Bellevue in 1962, Rahr attended Newport High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a minor in sociology at Washington State University.
Entering police work with the goal of earning money for law school, Rahr was one of the first women hired to work as a regular patrol officer. After 30 years, Rahr became the first woman sheriff in King County history.
As sheriff, she works to find the resources and political support to address difficult public safety issues regarding dealing with mentally ill offenders to gang crime and domestic violence prevention. She serves as an executive board member of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs and the National Sheriffs’ Association.
Hoh Tribal Council Secretary and Director of Education
A member of the Hoh Tribe, Marie Riebe graduated from the American Indian Bible College in Phoenix in 1981, she worked for five years with the Skinner Corporation and six years with the Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP, law office in Seattle.
She worked with the Department of Corrections Olympic Corrections Center in Forks, Wash., for 10 years prior to being selected to be on the Hoh Tribal Council.
As the first and current director of education for the Hoh Tribe, she established a process that affords tribal members funding for higher education. She also looks forward to moving tribal people out of a flood zone, having the grand opening of the 7th District Fire Hall, the first in many years.
Riebe is a single mother with two kids, son Philip, 25, and daughter Rachel, 21.
Bremerton City Council Member
As a loyal advocate for her community for the last 30 years, Dianne Robinson has represented the constituents of District 6 in the City of Bremerton as a council member since 2004.
Robinson has served on a number of committees and boards including the Audit Committee, Fiscal and Budget Committee, Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council, Kitsap County Board of Health, and Joint Committee with the Bremerton Housing Authority.
She received the Washington State Humanities Award for her work on the “Sinclair Park Project,” a documentary of Black American culture in the Puget Sound. She recently received a Certificate of Municipal Leadership from the Association of Washington Cities (AWC).
Yakima City Council Member
Sonia Rodriguez is a family law attorney and was appointed as a Yakima City council member in January 2009.
She was born in Los Angeles but grew up in a suburb of Tacoma.
Rodriguez earned a degree in philosophy at the University of Washington and went on to study law. While in law school, she interned for the state attorney general’s office, The Defender Organization, and Columbia Legal Services in Seattle.
She started her career as a staff attorney at Columbia Legal Services in Yakima, and she now owns her own law firm with a focus on family law and immigration cases. She is the first Latino to serve on the city council in Yakima’s 122-year history.
Shoreline City Mayor
Having served on the Shoreline City Council since 2006, Cindy Ryu was appointed mayor in 2008, making her the first Korean American woman to become mayor of an American city in U.S. history.
As mayor, one of her achievements has been leading the way in long-term policy setting for the city through Shoreline’s Economic Development Plan and Environmental Sustainability and Comprehensive Housing Strategies. She also strives to make the council’s work transparent and open to all Shoreline residents.
In June of 2009, Ryu was re-elected as a director of the Association of Washington Cities (AWC) at its annual conference in Spokane.
Sharon Tomiko Santos
Santos is a grassroots leader with a history of community activism that spans nearly 30 years. The first Japanese American woman ever elected to the Washington House of Representatives in 1999, Santos has been instrumental in passing legislation that respects the cultural diversity of our state and protects the rights of all people.
In 2006, she successfully fought to revive the Center for Improvement of Student Learning, and in 2007, she helped pass the Community Preservation and Development Act, which helps mitigate adverse impacts to historical communities by large public works projects.
She is a strong advocate for human rights, quality public education, affordable health care and housing, and economic justice.
Sili Mana’o Savusa
Highline School Board Member
Sili Mana’o Savusa is a school board member for the Highline School District and long-time community leader and activist in the Samoan/Pacific Islander community. Savusa worked for the City of Seattle for eight years and now serves as program director for the Southwest Youth and Family Services.
She is dedicated to solving issues related to education and their impact on Samoan youth. Savusa works as a consultant with multi-cultural communities to help raise awareness of different ethnicities and solve issues related to social justice. She is currently employed by Southwest Youth & Family Services as a family center coordinator.
Tacoma City Council Member
Marilyn Strickland was elected to the Tacoma City Council in 2007 and currently serves as vice chairwoman of the council’s Public Safety, Human Services, and Education Committee. She also serves on the council’s Government Performance and Finance Committee. She is on the board of Safe Streets and the Pierce County Regional Council, and she is a member of the Theatre District Association.
As a member of the council, Strickland has traveled to Korea to represent the city of Tacoma, advocated for a farmer’s market in the south Tacoma business district, and worked with federal legislators to obtain funding for local infrastructure projects.
She has also helped sponsor legislation to support the Boys & Girls Clubs Regional Center. Strickland is currently campaigning to be elected as mayor of Tacoma during the 2009 election.
Master of Ceremonies
Angela Russell’s experience includes covering the historic 2008 presidential race, the Phillies’ dramatic World Series win, and issues on national security at the height of the “war on terror.”
She has also reported on a wide variety of Congressional hearings, most notably on the steroid abuse in Major League Baseball. Her interviews with injured Iraq war veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center showcased the consequences of the war on military personnel and their families.
She has worked in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Mobile, Ala. She began her broadcasting career at WTMG-FM at the University of Florida where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in telecommunications news. She is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists. ♦
Leslie Yeh contributed to this report.
Women of Color Empowered brings women of all backgrounds together three times a year. The luncheon costs $20 for guests who register in advance and $35 for walk-ins. Table purchases and sponsorship are also available. Call 206-223-0623 or visit www.nwasianweeklyfoundation.org for more information.
Edited on Sept. 21, for errors in Doris McConnell’s bio.