Alan Nakanishi was elected by his fellow council members Wednesday as the first Asian mayor of the Lodi City Council. Nakanishi, who made an unsuccessful bid for a state Senate seat last month, said he is ready to settle into his position as Lodi’s mayor.
He was elected to the City Council in 1998 after an unsuccessful run for the state Assembly. A local ophthalmologist who operates and owns his own business, Nakanishi is a former chief of staff at Stockton’s Dameron Hospital, served as the president of the Dameron Independent Physicians Association and founded Delta Eye Medical Group, a six-physician group with offices in Lodi, Stockton and Tracy.
He has been married to his wife, Sue, for 38 years. Together, they have three children and four grandchildren.
In an interview with News-Sentinel staff writer Jennifer Pearson Bonnett, who covers city hall, Nakanishi discusses city goals, politics and challenges.
How did you move from picking grapes in Lodi as a teen to becoming the city’s mayor? How did those experiences mold you?
I was born in Sacramento and my parents were cannery workers. I was raised in the Sacramento ghetto and was even sent to a relocation camp during World War II.
We picked grapes in Lodi. I never thought I’d be operating a business in Lodi, let alone be its mayor. But the experiences made me self-reliant, a hard worker and gave me strength. I have a lot in common with people who have worked their way up and now own their own business. I love this country ... the poor aren’t as bad off as they are in other countries.
Why did you seek a seat on the Lodi City Council?
I ran for the state Assembly because I was concerned with health care. I never thought of running for city council. I was willing to give six years to the state Assembly because I believe in service. And, it was that time in my life.
But I didn’t get nominated, so I figured, if the city wants me, Ill serve. Residents said they would vote for me.
Now, as a mayor, I’d like to tell other people to serve. Give your time to our city ... if you give us the time, well work for you.
Now that you’re the council’s leader, what are some of your goals?
The first is safe streets. I like to see people walking in Lodi; I like to walk.
I also want to work on the Eastside’s infrastructure, putting in more lights in alleys. That was my idea. We have already done so much there, but I want to do more.
Being mayor is a part-time job. You end up spending 15 to 20 hours in preparation and reading the agenda packet, not to mention going to special events during the week.
What are some of the other things you’d like to see happen during your term as mayor?
I want to see projects completed.
I also want to look at utility rates. I have the business knowledge to expand the utility company, but I am only one in five.
I also want to teach citizens about big issues such as electricity deregulation and the contamination in the city. It’s up to the council to concentrate on educating the public.
We must still go forward with the public safety building and the indoor sports complex. To have safe streets, you have to keep the kids active.
How do you feel about being the first minority mayor?
I grew up with minorities, and when I’m in a crowd, I feel comfortable. I honestly think I’m color blind. I’m proud of my heritage, because that’s what makes me who I am, but I’m proud first that I’m an American. I’d rather be known as the first doctor, the first member of my church who is mayor. You vote for the best guy, not because of his color.
How do you plan to pay for these projects?
You’re going to have to have a cohesive team who is willing to plan. We can look toward (Boosters of Boys and Girls Sports), other foundations. To finance it, we will have to ask the city to pay part of it. ... We will get these things in due time.
In 1999, you refused to endorse the $122 million Lodi Unified School District school bond. Why?
I wasn’t in favor of the bond because it wasn’t in my jurisdiction. If I was on the school board, it would be different. I don’t want my name attached to a bond without a plan in writing.
In the future, if they want me to look at the bond I will. I just don’t want to put my name to something I have no control over.
How do you feel about the city’s 2 percent growth limit?
What about the greenbelt currently being proposed between Lodi and Stockton?
I like to use the term “planned-growth,” not “no-growth.” Regionally, we need a 2 percent growth limit. ... I like the idea of preserving farm land.
During your term as mayor, the City Council may be faced with making a decision about training firefighters to be paramedics. How do you feel about this?
We have to look at the cost, the necessity. I have no data.
It’s no secret that at least one other council member has concerns about the performance of City Manager Dixon Flynn. What are your opinions?
When I came onto the City Council, there was a lot of ridicule about Dixon. Ive been able to look at him and at the books, and the city has been run well. He hasn’t done anything I see as bad.
What are your opinions surrounding the scuffle over the vice mayor position that took place Wednesday night?
I would have preferred it didn’t happen. We can be collegial without being adversarial.
You mentioned at the meeting the protocol in place to select both a mayor and vice mayor, but there is no written policy.
The way I looked at it is the way it was done in the past. I studied the list of past mayors and even talked to former Mayor Randy Snider. There should be a written (policy), and I’m going to make sure in the minutes my research is documented.
The rotation needs to be fair because it’s a four-year term and there are five members. But I said I’d vote for Susan (Hitchcock) for vice mayor next year and hope that she will run for re-election.
Will you run for re-election to the City Council in 2002?
That’s hard. I give credit to Steve (Mann) and Phil (Pennino); theyve been on council eight years. It takes a lot of time. I’m going day by day, and right now I’m back at work and enjoying my practice. Plus, if you only serve one term it’s easier to make decisions.
What about seeking another state office in the future? There has been discussion from residents worried that youll leave in the middle of a term like you nearly did in November.
I’m also unsure about that because of redistricting in California. No one’s sure what’s happening.
Being a mayor, it’s going to be a good year meeting people. Right now, I’m looking forward to that.
While you were running against Mike Machado in the senate race, some felt your campaign was rather negative.
I didn’t run a negative campaign. All my comments were truthful. Everything I said I have proof and data for.
What do you want to be remembered for?