Mas Fukai, a 28-year veteran of the Gardena City Council and a longtime deputy to the late Supervisor Kenneth Hahn has died. His passing made Page One in the Daily Breeze today:
Fukai was born in Gardena on Jan. 2, 1927, attended local schools and worked on his family’s farm until World War II, when they were relocated to an internment camp in Gila, Ariz.
He then joined the Army, where he made the rank of corporal, and returned to Gardena in 1947. He then attended Los Angeles Trade Tech College and ran his own auto repair shop for 13 years. He then went back to school, attending the California School of Insurance and later becoming successful in the insurance industry.
Before he was elected to the City Council, Fukai created an organization for Asian youth to encourage their participation in sports, she said. Part of the focus of the group was to divert teens from drug use.
It was this program that sparked Fukai’s long and illustrious career in politics as it got the attention of then-county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who named Fukai to his anti-drug commission.
In his first run for council in 1974, Fukai unseated an incumbent and beat his closest competitor by nearly 50 percentage points. A year later, Hahn hired him as a deputy.
Fukai leaves behind a lasting legacy in Gardena, particularly among residents of Japanese descent, Tanaka said. As a young and overwhelmed Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy looking for a room in Gardena to host a recruitment fair, (Mayor Paul Tanaka) vividly remembers the first time he met Fukai.
“Not only did he arrange the room at no cost, he showed up on a Saturday to see if everything was fine. He was the first person I met in an important position. He made such an impression on me.”
Using his standing as a city councilman and position as Hahn’s chief of staff, Fukai opened doors for Japanese-Americans interested in government, former state Assemblyman George Nakano said.
Tough-talking and dedicated, Fukai was a leader who simply got things done, Councilman Steve Bradford said.
“Mas was the politician’s politician,” Bradford said. “It really best summed him up.”
James Cragin, a former councilman, said Fukai would never hesitate to speak his mind.
When a naysayer once mouthed off at a City Council meeting, “Mas Fukai told him, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, you jerk,’ ” Cragin said. “Then he went down and chased him out. … He put his fist where his mouth was.”
Fukai was also an avid golfer and his name graces a park in the center of town.
The obit is, appropriately enough, Gardena-focused. But to the dozens of political staffers who worked on the 8th floor of the LA County Hall of Administration during the long reign of Supervisor Hahn, Mas Fukai had another, slightly different persona.
Hahn (father of the former mayor) was one of the most personable politicians in Los Angeles history. He glad-handed, told stories, spoke from the gut and spread a kind of creative chaos wherever he went. Hahn was the opposite of methodical.
For many years, Mas Fukai was Supervisor Hahn’s balance-wheel. Quiet, low-key, unexcitable, the Mas Fukai of my recollection always stood silently near near Kenny to make notes, preparing for the inevitable follow-up work to fulfill the many promises with which Hahn littered his path. Hahn didn’t have much patience for details; Fukai was all about details.
As a young deputy to Supervisor Ed Edelman in the mid-80s, I worked with Fukai on many issues, and respected him tremendously. He was tough, smart and loyal. His concept of loyalty to his boss was to not say much. Other supervisors and their staffs had their own impressions of Kenny, whose maverick, populist ways annoyed all his colleagues at one time or another. Many questions came to Fukai in this form: “Can’t you get your boss to….?” Fukai never rose to the bait. A little smile might creep across his face for a moment, but that’s all he was going to give you.
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