Serious Sights Set On 1st District

City Councilman Stanley Chang. Photo courtesy Stanley Chang

Thirty-one-year-old City Councilman Stanley Chang looks 17 – and a little out of place during a recent interview amid the gray beards lunching at the Kahala Zippy’s.

He laughs about being mistaken for a teenager, but he’s dead serious about succeeding Colleen Hanabusa as Hawaii’s member of Congress from the 1st District.

Chang tossed his hat into the ring almost immediately after Hanabusa announced for the United States Senate. By June 30, he’d raised $183,000; $308,000 by Sept. 30 – considerably more than the other four announced candidates for the job.

Chang already has proven himself a tireless campaigner. In 2008, he walked and waved his way to the East Honolulu seat on the Honolulu City Council, beating a better-known and better-funded opponent.

He intends to get to Congress via a similar route.

“There’s no substitute for hard work in a campaign like this,” he says. “That’s why we got into it early. I intend to go to every community in the district and learn all I can about federal issues.”

Chang attended public schools in Kahala before transferring to Iolani, then to Harvard for undergraduate and law degrees. But he gave up an associate’s job at the Cades Schutte law firm after his election to the City Council.

“Public service is my calling,” he says. “I felt I wouldn’t be doing my Council job justice if I continued to practice law. I wanted to give it my undivided attention.”

Hawaii’s voters love a Horatio Alger story, and the Chang family has one.

Stanley Chang’s father, Sen-Dou Chang, fled the 1949 Chinese revolution for Taiwan. He eventually made it to the Universities of Wisconsin and Washington, where he earned graduate degrees in geography.

Dr. Sen-Dou Chang found work at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, where he taught for 40 years. He and wife Angela, a Chinese language teacher, found a home in Kahala and reared two sons, one now a Texas banker, the other a real estate lawyer and politician.

“For my parents, Hawaii was the land of opportunity,” says son Stanley. “But when I look at my graduating class at Iolani, 90 percent of them went off to the Mainland and never came back. Young people can’t find a job here. It takes forever to save up the money to make a down payment on a house. People are working two and three jobs in order to get by.”

Chang wants to change that by strengthening tourism, supporting the military and creating a “third pillar of the economy”: astronomy, oceanography and genomics.

“The University of Hawaii should be a hub for that kind of research,” he says.

Chang also sees immigration as a job stimulator.

“We need to increase the number of visas allotted to skilled immigrants from places like China and India,” he says. “They’re going to take their skills somewhere; why not here? We should draw the best and brightest from all over the world.”

Whether Chang wins the 1st District seat in 2014 or not, he’ll leave satisfied with his single term on the City Council.

“We’ve tripled the city’s road-maintenance budget, established smoke-free beaches, extended compassionate services to the homeless and made our sidewalks safe and clean,” touts Chang. “If I were hit by a bus tomorrow, I’d be satisfied with our legacy on the Council.”

At 31-going-on-17, Chang looks eminently capable of dodging that bus.