By Sylvana Chan
Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong spoke at a “Community Conversations” forum hosted by Gov. Deval Patrick’s Asian American Commission on Sept. 19 at the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center.
Wong was elected to office in November 2007 at age 28, becoming the first female Asian American mayor in Massachusetts. She is serving her third term as mayor and has been recognized for her work in economic restructuring and redevelopment projects, as well as her efforts to bolster environmental affairs and lower crime.
Wong credited her upbringing for her public service. Like many immigrants, her parents emigrated to the United States from Hong Kong hoping to provide their children with new opportunities and a quality education. Their journey paid off: after working as a waiter, Wong’s father became a restaurant owner. The family moved from an apartment into their own home.
As Wong’s family prospered under the ethos of the American Dream, she noticed the stark reality of social and economic inequality within her suburban community.
“Why were some people rich and others were poor?” It was this observation that “would lead me down a road of activism and a road of politics,” Wong said.
Her undergraduate studies in international relations and economics at Boston University only fueled her ambitions to make a positive difference in the world. “Economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources,” Wong explained. “And I wanted to know what role I could play to break down some of those (economic) barriers.”
She joined the Fitchburg Redevelopment Authority in 2001 and became its executive director in 2004. Although it never crossed her mind that she could be mayor, Wong made the bold decision to run for office after realizing Fitchburg could benefit from her direction.
Applying her background in economics, Wong made fiscal stability one of her top priorities. She consolidated 22 city departments into 10 and increased a stabilization fund from $20,000 to more than $4.6 million — all while balancing the city’s budget. Thanks to Wong, Fitchburg’s bond rating doubled.
Reflecting upon her mayoral run, Wong said “politics is the best vehicle for positive change.” Wong urged audience members to think about what they can do to improve their communities and families.
The “Community Conversations” series strive to provide the Asian American community with opportunities to learn about what the speakers do and their thoughts on various issues affecting the Asian American community.
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