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January 19, 2000
AAHOA seeks political clout
J M Shenoy
For an organization whose members own and manage $ 40 billion worth of properties and who employ nearly a million people and pay millions of dollars in taxes, the Asian American Hotel Owners Association has remained aloof from seeking political clout. While major Indian organizations go after heavyweight politicians to give keynote speeches at their annual conventions, AAHOA this year invited best-selling New Age guru Deepak Chopra to be the chief guest at its glittering convention in Las Vegas.
At the next convention, it could be a politician who will give the keynote speech, if new AAHOA president Bakulesh "Buggsi" Patel has his way.
Patel has announced that AAHOA will have a full-time lobbyist in Washington. Though AAHOA members own more than half of America's economy hotels and substantial number of luxury hotels, hardly a congressman or senator knows about the association, many of its leaders complain.
Like many other newer businesses run by immigrants, AAHOA too had to fight alleged discrimination from city and state governments. It fought many such battles, particularly in San Francisco over 10 years ago, by employing public relations firms which conducted studies that showed that services in AAHOA-run hotels was not inferior to those run by Americans.
Even then, many AAHOA members feel that from time to time, they are faced with politically motivated regulations. For instance, a suit against Oakland city filed about three months ago by several Indian motel and hotel owners charges that the city has made unrealistic demands from them and has imposed undue restrictions, holding them responsible even for garbage thrown by miscreants outside their premises.
Patel, who took over as AAHOA president at its 11th convention held in the first week of January, said, it was "dangerous" to be politically unknown. Many decisions made in Washington, be they be about property taxes or immigration, have bearings on AAHOA, he added.
For many AAHOA leaders including Patel seeking political clout means more than having a sympathetic ear in Congress or the state assemblies. They would also like to encourage second and third generation Indian Americans to run for public offices, and make the community's presence felt in the political process.
Patel complains that AAHOA has not "leveraged our strengths for political purposes." To change that would be one of his top priorities.
He would like to work with associations such as the National Federation of Indian Associations and the American Association of Physicians from India.
Though NFIA and AAPI have different political agendas, they have been successfully able to engage politicians at the top level.
President Bill Clinton was the chief guest at the AAPI convention in Chicago a few years ago. Other Washington notables who have attended AAPI conventions are Richard Gephardt, the Democrat and House minority leader, and Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker.
"Just because we hold fund-raisers for politicians and contribute to their election efforts so that we can invite them to our conventions does not mean our problems go away," a former AAPI president says. "We have proved to the politicians that we have the organizational clout, and reminded them that we have doctors who work and teach at top hospitals and universities in America."
However, the doctor -- who asked his name be withheld -- said that often organizations wine and dine the politicians, but fail in follow-up work.
"You pay something like $ 100,000 to get a top Democrat or Republican to your convention," he continues. "But what happens then? Do you keep in touch with him or her and make sure the issues that affect you get proper attention?"
"The answer is mostly 'no,' " he says, adding that AAHOA and other organizations that seek political clout should be aware of the failings of other organizations. "Remember the politicians's attention spans are very fragile."
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