Congratulations to our October 2013 IMPACT Leader of the Month, Stanley Chang!
Stanley is a lifelong resident of City Council District 4 in Honolulu, Hawaii. He graduated at the top of his high school class and earned scholarships to attend Harvard College, where he graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in government. After working a year at SonyBMG Music Entertainment in New York, he continued his education at Harvard Law School, graduating cum laude. Most recently, he practiced law at Cades Schutte in downtown Honolulu, specializing in real estate law.
As a Councilmember, he chairs the Public Works and Sustainability Committee of the City Council, which oversees roads, sewers, our water supply, waste disposal, and other basic infrastructure needs of the city. He is also vice chair of the Transportation Committee, which oversees the rail project, buses, and other aspects of our transportation system. He remains an active member in the community and is equally as passionate about community service.
What inspired you to pursue a career as an attorney now working as a Councilmember?
I’ve always wanted to serve the public. About 90% of my high school class went to college on the mainland, and most still haven’t come back. We have to ensure that every future generation has good opportunities to succeed in Hawaii and in the US, or where will be in 10, 20, 50 years? My father came to the US as a student in the 1950s with nothing, a refugee from civil war and chaos back in China. When he got to Hawaii, he worked as a beach boy on Waikiki Beach. But back in the 1960s, Hawaii was the boomtown of the Pacific, and the state bird was the construction crane. Eventually he became a professor at the University of Hawaii, and was able to buy a house and put my brother and me through school. Today, my brother has moved to the mainland and bought a house that’s bigger, newer, and nicer than ours here–for 1/5 the price. I want to help ensure that Hawaii remains a place where young people will always have a chance to succeed. As a local boy, the future of Hawaii is so important to me.
Elected officials have enormous, direct power to make a positive difference in the world. In just two years on the City Council, I initiated a record $777 million road repaving program to bring all our roads up to good condition by 2016, fought for experienced, competent leadership for the construction of our $5.5 billion rail transit project, and am currently working on a new initiative to dramatically reduce homelessness in Hawaii. I don’t know another role where we could have so dramatically and tangibly improved our community in such a short time.
What is the key to balancing your professional, philanthropic and social commitments?
Be picky. The most effective people pick a few things and do them really well, rather than do many halfheartedly. You need to choose your top priorities–professional and social, but don’t forget about your own leisure–and organize your life around them, rather than reacting to other people’s requests for your time. Don’t let FOMO (fear of missing out) dictate your life.
What is the biggest mistake young professionals make, especially when pursuing careers in your politics and government?
My heart just breaks every time I see an old friend spending 16 hours a day working at a job that does not inspire them at all. We are the most privileged people in the history of the world, with an outstanding education, a good upbringing in the wealthiest country in the world, a support network of amazing friends and family, the opportunity to do literally whatever job we choose–and yet so many of us feel so chained by our jobs. We have no excuse not to do what we truly want. Think about it this way. When you’re looking back on your life, what would you regret not doing? Filmmaking, elementary school teaching, starting your own business? Whatever it is, plunge in now. Life is too short to have regrets.
What advice would you give other young professionals who desire to excel in the political realm, especially young Asian American men?
Do it! There are so many myths about running for office: it’s only for people with long resumes, or you need to “sell out” to raise money, or you need to do lots of public speaking. First, people want change and fresh ideas, the values that you’ll be running for as a young person. Fundraising is far less important than hard work. I wouldn’t have won the election without walking the district for a year and a half, knocking on 19,000 doors. In a district of 100,000 people or less, there’s no secret shortcut. If you knock on more doors than your opponent, you will be in a great position. And I could probably count on one hand the number of times I had to speak to a crowd of strangers during the entire campaign. For the most part, you’re speaking one on one with your neighbors.
The reason I’m so passionate about this is that if you look at the world of elected officials today, young people are probably the single most underrepresented group, yet we are the ones with the most pressing issues: we can’t afford to buy homes and start adult lives, we can’t find jobs that pay enough for us to repay our student loans, many of us aren’t even allowed to live in this country. Yet issues for young people are seldom at the top of the agenda for elected officials today. That’s why we young people have to step up to the plate ourselves.
What’s been the best experience of your career thus far (or the most rewarding)?
I’ve been thrilled that we’ve been able to make such positive changes in the community, but I’d have to say that the single most rewarding part of public office is encouraging, inspiring, and training rising young elected officials. For example, Hawaii Rep. Kaniela Ing started his public service career working in my office at the beginning of my term. I urged him to run for the House in his home district of South Maui against a well known incumbent. He walked his district like a machine, and he overwhelmingly defeated the incumbent to become the youngest member of the Hawaii State Legislature this year. We worked with another young Teach for America teacher who helped a lot on my election, Takashi Ohno, take on a 10-year State House incumbent in Nuuanu who’d turned back challenger after challenger. Like Kaniela, Takashi resoundingly won his race, unseating the incumbent. Recently I’ve met some excellent potential candidates from California. There are so many great young future stars out there, and I am just so inspired every time I get the chance to talk with one of them.
What’s next for you in your career? What should we look out for?
Today we’re on the campaign trail for Congress in the first district of Hawaii. I’m committed to public service for the rest of my life, and where that takes me, who knows.
Lastly, give me three words to sum up Stanley Chang?
Focus, loyalty, perseverance.
What is your Twitter and Facebook Handle? What email address can people use to reach you?