By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
In politics, money matters. So do connections.
When money and connections merge, you get VIP treatment at Gov. Jay Inslee’s campaign dinner on June 24 in downtown Seattle, seeing President Obama up close.
Ben Zhang, CEO of Greater China Industries, bought a table for $5,000 as a gold sponsor. The less expensive ticket was $250 per person. And you would get a better glimpse of Obama on the big screen, rather than looking at the president, like a tiny dot at the podium.
Zhang had the right connections. His guests included his employee Mark (Inslee’s cousin) and his parents Evan and Elizabeth Inslee (Inslee’s uncle and aunt). So our table was in a great position, to glance at the president’s every gesture and move. I was fortunate to be Zhang’s guest too.
What’s different about this political dinner, as opposed to the ones I’ve attended previously for Washington U.S. Senators and governors?
For one, there were three times as many people. There were over 3,000 attendees at the Washington State Convention Center. Fundraising luncheons and breakfasts I’ve attended usually attract around 1,000 people.
President Obama is still immensely popular in our state. Many friends I met at the dinner told me they came for the president. It doesn’t matter that he only has six months left in the Oval Office. To his fans, his policy, wisdom, and influence are still powerful.
I wasn’t surprised that several Black leaders showed up. But I was surprised that Chinatown had sponsored a table at $250 per person. This was the first time that many of them supported a big, mainstream political event. They were even delighted to take photos with an Obama cutout.
What’s unheard of was one Chinatown community leader who actually paid $2,500 to take a photo with Obama during an early private reception, which over 100 people attended.
Raymond Chen, an acupuncturist, said it was worth it to shake hands and get his picture taken with the president. Completely mesmerized by Obama in their under-a-minute interaction, Chen said, “The president even thanked me for taking the picture with him. He’s such a gentleman. This photo will be priceless to be placed in the Chen’s family ancestry record (of over hundreds of years in his native village in China).”
Kids were a part of it
The other surprise was there were many kids in the audience. Zhang brought his family, including his daughter, Meili, and son, Joseph. King County Executive Dow Constantine brought his 2-year-old daughter. And Attorney General Bob Ferguson brought his twins along. A couple of my friends also invited their kids.
“This is a great opportunity for our children to meet the president of the country,” said Hisae Kageyama, Zhang’s wife. “They will remember the governor and the president.”
Both students at Overlake School, the children said they were excited to see the president and enjoyed the event. Joseph, 12, said he was thankful that his parents let him have that experience. Although he once dreamed of meeting the president, he didn’t think he would. What impressed Joseph about the president was his speech. “He’s humorous, competent, confident, and he spoke wisely and thoughtfully.”
Joseph’s sister, Meili, 14, has been sharing her experience of seeing the president with her friends on social media.
Meili described it as “incredible” and she considers herself fortunate. She’s aware that not many kids get to meet a president.
“Obama is a great public speaker,” she said. “He didn’t look at a script and could speak at great length. He also responded to people who interrupted him during his speech. He really listened (to the audience),” Meili said. “Imagine how someone must have felt when the president responded to them.”
Also, she could relate to Obama when he said how hard the teachers and nurses work. It’s important he recognized the teachers, she said. “He cares about the people of this country.”
An engaging speaker
Evelyn Yenson, a retired executive, said, “[Obama] was at ease, and well-balanced in his speech.” Yenson, who attended a fundraiser for Sen. Patty Murray last year in which Obama spoke, said the president looked like relaxed this time, without his suit on, and he was funnier. Another friend told me that at an event earlier this year featuring Vice President Joe Biden, everyone was on their cell phone instead of listening to Biden’s speech. None of this happened at the Obama event. The audience was attentive. Eddie Rye, a community activist, said the crowd was enthusiastic. And for the first 15 minutes during Obama’s speech, the audience was allowed to walk to both sides of the stage to take selfies.
Who paid $50,000
During his speech, Obama recognized three non-elected officials: basketball Hall of Famer Bill Russell, Seattle SuperSonics legend Fred Brown, and Lenny Wilkens, who coached the Sonics from 1969 until 1972.
The public knows that Obama loves to play basketball and many players are his close friends. What the public didn’t know was that the former Sonics stars’ table of 10, cost $50,000, according to a source.
Also, someone in the audience paid nothing to get in and took photos with the president. Rye, a community activist, got in free because of his daughter, Angela Rye. Angela is a CNN commentator and her boyfriend works for the White House. It’s whom you know. Sometimes, connections speak louder than anything else.
Remarkable organizing machine
Compared to the chaos outside the Convention Center with protesters and police cars blocking the road, the event inside went off without a hitch. Gov. Inslee’s campaign staff did a great job organizing, and moving 3,000 folks, including many dignitaries, through security, getting them in and out of their tables, and ending the dinner on time. The lines for checking in moved faster than expected, and the organization was superb.The event was well-planned. Although the amount of money raised was not announced (perhaps a surprisingly big sum), the governor should be pleased.
Assunta Ng can be reached at email@example.com.