Undaunted Woo aims higher

HE MAY have lost the Los Angeles mayoral race earlier this year but the ambitious Chinese-American Michael Woo already has his sights set on something bigger and better - to be Secretary of State in California.

The 41-year-old town planner turned politician, who lost to Republican millionaire Richard Riordan, told the Sunday Morning Post he was ''now seriously considering running for the Secretary of State in California''.

But before campaigning for the post starts next year, Mr Woo is looking to set up a business consultancy which will link Hollywood with business contacts in the territory and in Taipei.

''When I was on the Los Angeles City Council, I was responsible for the Hollywood area so I have many contacts in the entertainment industry,'' said Mr Woo, who was in Hong Kong last week.

''I have been speaking to people in Hong Kong and Taiwan about setting up a business consultancy which would connect my contacts in the entertainment industry and Hollywood with business contacts here and Taipei.

''I think there's a lot of potential here. I'm exploring that and looking at lots of possibilities,'' he said.

''The political campaigning would not start until next year and would not be full on until much later so there's a bit of time.'' The Secretary of State for California is March Fong Eu, one of the most influential and high-powered Chinese-Americans in the United States.

In June next year, she will step down after 20 years in the job and it has been widely rumoured she will accept President Bill Clinton's offer of an ambassadorial position.

''There has been no opposition to March Fong Eu in 20 years. . . when she ends her fifth term this position will be open for the first time in a long while,'' Mr Woo said.

The Secretary is also the Chief Election Officer and is responsible for voter registration and election conditions. Mr Woo reckons the position is important, ''particularly at a time in the American political system when levels of voter participation have dropped.

''We have to restore confidence in the electoral process.'' Mr Woo said his campaign platform would be to develop new systems for encouraging voter registration and participation in the electoral process.

''I would reach out to the disenfranchised and the disillusioned, and restore their confidence in the political system - especially among ethnic minorities who have never really been involved to the extent they should have been.

''It's a challenge to renew faith in the American political system and there's a lot of work to be done, especially in California,'' he said.

''I too have my share of frustrations and disappointments but overall I believe the system can be made to work - and I'll try to convince voters that if they act it will make a difference.'' One group he will be looking at is the Chinese-Americans in the state. Studies show there is a low turnout among this group when it comes to elections.

Mr Woo admits he will have to give Chinese-Americans ''reasons to get excited'' about elections.

''Chinese-Americans in California are extraordinarily successful in business but they have not fought for their share of participation.'' He said the state-wide elections would be different from the Los Angeles mayoral polls.

''I don't think ethnicity will have much impact. There was a racial undercurrent to the mayoral elections following the aftermath of the riots,'' he said.

In the mayoral election, Mr Woo triumphed in terms of ethnic support, taking 70 per cent of the Asian vote, 86 per cent of the black community, plus 57 per cent of Latinos.

But he said while this would not harm his image, it would be the ''positive image of Chinese-Americans in California'' that would enhance his chances of winning the Secretary's post.

''The Secretary of State job would be a good chance in a large part to strengthen ties between the communities. But whether I get it or not will depend on the appeal of other candidates in the race,'' Mr woo said.

And if he does not get elected to the office? ''I am a city planner by training and am interested in public service. I am quite proud of my efforts, although they have not always been successful, to mediate racial tensions in Los Angeles and I aim to continue these efforts to try to achieve a higherdegree of harmony among the races,'' he said.

If Mr Woo does become the next Secretary of State for California, it will make him one of the most powerful Chinese-American politicians in the US.

''That would not be a bad sub-title to have,'' he said.