“Achy Breaky Heart” brought the senior citizens to the dance floor.

Every weekday morning, dozens of elderly Filipinos gather in Bay Terraces Community Park to chat, eat and get their exercise by line-dancing under a gazebo. Last Wednesday, the seniors grooved to versions of “Stayin’ Alive,” “Blame It on the Bossa Nova” and “Fly Me to the Moon.”

“Even if it’s raining, we’re here,” said Fred Calucag.

The Filipino seniors have been coming to the park for more than two decades, and during that time the park has changed. They lobbied the District 4 City Council office for bathrooms, the gazebo and a storage bin. They got all three. A recreation center, however, still hasn’t arrived. They hope the new District 4 council member will be able to deliver it.

But as of last Wednesday only one of the nine candidates running in the March 26 special election had come by to see the group: Tony Villafranca, the one candidate who’s Filipino, like them.

The district’s Asian and Hispanic communities have yet to capitalize politically on their snowballing numbers — six out of the nine candidates running are black, including the four considered to be front-runners. Nearly 42 percent of the district now is Hispanic and almost a quarter is Asian. Black residents now make up less than 20 percent.

The black community’s history of political control still casts a long shadow, residents and observers said, but the area’s changing demographics have forced District 4’s black population to consider a future where they no longer hold all the political cards.

“The power brokers are members of the African-American community, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Rafael Bautista, a real estate broker who was born in Mexico City but grew up in Oak Park. “But there’s a lack of inclusion with the Latino community and that affects leadership.”

Bautista said the Hispanic community doesn’t have local groups to help build leadership. He considered running as a write-in candidate but didn’t think he had a shot because he couldn’t get a slot at candidate forums.

Chou Ratsachak, who lives in Encanto, got involved in this council race for the first time to support Sandy Spackman, a Laotian candidate. He is trying to drum up greater participation within his community and said he’s fighting the perception that the black population dominates the district.

“The younger generation like me, we see the statistics,” Ratsachak said. “We’re not going back to Laos.”

When District 4 Councilman Tony Young announced he was resigning to head the local Red Cross last November, Audie de Castro got together with other leaders in the city’s Filipino community to try to recruit a candidate.

But de Castro, who heads the local Filipino American Chamber of Commerce and grew up in District 4, said his group couldn’t find someone who had enough experience with city issues.

He’s now focused on getting younger Filipinos in the district appointed to city boards and commissions. De Castro thinks they could make a jump from there. Perhaps it could happen as soon as the next election in 2014, he said.

“Right now, I don’t know that our community has been as successful as other communities at grooming candidates,” de Castro said.

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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