Candidate profile: Hwa aiming to bring racial diversity to council race
Leslie Hwa knows she's a longshot to win a West Linn City Council seat on Nov. 3. For Hwa, the race is about representation. Hwa intends to show that there is more to West Linn than the white faces currently representing the city, she said.
The three-year West Linn resident is one of 10 candidates seeking two council positions this election.
Hwa described the unwelcoming sentiments she felt when she first moved to West Linn from North Portland.
"Just my skin color alone made me feel like an outsider," she said.
Though she now considers West Linn home and appreciates that people in West Linn have a strong sense of community, she said she's tired of the exclusionary atmosphere of the city.
Before she moved to West Linn, Hwa was a franchisor for the Oregon-based sandwich chain Big Town Hero, in charge of selling the Big Town Hero name to franchisees.
Hwa said her time in the service industry, including several years running four Big Town Hero shops, helped hone her listening skills and business sense — two things she thinks the city could benefit from.
One thing she'd like to address if elected is the current animosity in government. With her empathy and listening skills, Hwa said she is practiced in diffusing difficult or hostile situations.
Hwa also said she'd like to examine the city's finances to make sure they are healthy.
"I'm a little concerned that they overspent the budget," she said.
Though she recognizes the council position is officially nonpartisan, Hwa said she wasn't naive to the politics at play, adding that she was fiscally "extremely conservative" and socially "extremely liberal."
"I'm pretty conservative in my beliefs but I'm very liberal in what I believe human rights should be," she said.
Regarding her shot at winning the election, Hwa said she knows others have the edge on her.
"I'm a long shot in hell," she said.
Hwa said she's not raising campaign funds because she isn't interested in spending her own money or anyone else's on this election. That's one reason she has no campaign website or social media, she said.
"Once you take money from someone, now you have someone else's interests in mind, and I don't think you can do your job fairly," she said. "I can go in and really listen to the issues and try to help, but not have any hidden agenda."
Hwa said she's also noticed that other council candidates are more ingrained in the community, some having lived in West Linn for decades with multiple generations of their family growing up in town.
"While I think that's great that they're so entrenched in West Linn, wouldn't you like to have somebody who has a different perspective?" she said.
Hwa wants to offer that different perspective.
"West Linn is known as 'White Linn.' Most of my friends are minorities and when they found out I was moving here, they were completely aghast," she said. "If West Linn really wants to be about diversity and inclusion, being well-rounded, then they need to look at who's representing West Linn. That's honestly the main reason I threw my hat in the ring."
While Hwa said she hasn't had many opportunities to meet voters, she has spoken at several neighborhood meetings. The message she tries to instill in people at these meetings is that she's the daughter of first-generation immigrants, she said.
"They really did achieve the American dream, which I think is what makes America great, but they did it the correct way," she said.
West Linn has many great aspects as well, Hwa said, but could be more welcoming of outsiders.
"We can keep our community clean and pristine, but we can also work on letting more people feel like this is a community they'd like to move to," she said.
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