Monday, January 11, 2010

Stress, Family Issues Led To Lai-Bitker's Decision

By Steven Tavares
The Citizen 
The melancholy of her first Christmas since the passing of her mother, time missed with family and the pressures of the job convinced Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker to call it quits, she said during her first interview since her surprise announcement last week.

"It's a very hard job," Lai-Bitker said Sunday morning. "I tried to look at the big picture. What is the best for the county? What is best for the people I represent? So, it has been a job that has become more and more difficult."

Lai-Bitker said she had briefly contemplated not seeking re-election of her District 3 seat on several occasions since the passing of her mother in September of last year, but did not seriously arrive at the decision until an extended Christmas vacation to the home of her in-laws. She is married to Steve Bitker, the long-time sports reporter at KCBS.

Time lost with her husband and two young daughters also weighed heavily on Lai-Bitker's mind. "I was also thinking about Steve," she said. "Am I going to have him spend more of these lonely nights for five more years or just one? So, the answer is no, just this one last year."

She says she expects to spend more time with her two daughters, one who recently graduated from U.C. Davis and another who just started college. One specific event she laments missing, because her duties, is not being able to join her husband on drives to Davis for lunches with her daughter, an activity she says cemented a bond between her husband and daughter she intends to join next year.

Most observers believed Lai-Bitker was a shoo-in to win re-election in 2010. Since her announcement last week, numerous names have entertained running for Lai-Bitker's seat, including former supervisor and assemblywoman Wilma Chan, Alameda Mayor Beverly Johnson, former San Leandro Mayor Shelia Young and Lai-Bitker's Chief of Staff Shawn Wilson.

She hopes her replacement is someone who can "carry on my priorities, my projects and my programs." The perfect person for the job, she says, would be Wilson. "Shawn would be a logical choice. He really knows the district and knows the county's business," she says. "I think he is absolutely right to explore if he has enough support. Right now, I need to wait and see and watch a little more. I would love to support him if he can get enough support that he decides to do it."

Such an endorsement, if it occurs, could be a blow to Chan's nascent candidacy. Chan told the Oakland Tribune she would seek her old seat on the Board of Supervisors. Lai-Bitker's solid reputation in the district's Chinatown neighborhood could undercut one of Chan's most supportive areas. It would also contain a certain twist of history. Lai-Bitker was an assistant under Chan as supervisor when appointed to replace her in 2000.

Lai-Bitker, 51, says she is not retiring and believes she can still make a difference outside of the supervisor's chambers. In the meantime, Lai-Bitker and the rest of the board face a daunting year amid possibly excruciating budget cuts to Medicaid, in-home care for seniors and transportation. "The Human and Human  Services are going to take the brunt of the cuts," she says.

A social worker by training, most of Lai-Bitker's accomplishment in her nine years on the board of supervisors center around health issues, including gaining more access to health care for children and combating domestic violence. She also procured a highly competitive federal grant which led to the forming the Family Justice Center.

She also believes saving San Leandro Hospital from closure as an emergency room and acute care facility would count as one of her biggest achievements. The Eden Township Healthcare District and Sutter Health recently became entangled in a legal battle for control of the community hospital. "I don't want to fight Sutter, I just want to fight for the hospital," she said. "There's a difference there."

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