Fil-Am is deputy mayor of US capital

by Rodney J. Jaleco, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at Nov 18 2009 08:28 PM | Updated as of Nov 21 2009 12:44 AM

WASHINGTON DC - "He's the only reason I watch any boxing," Deputy Mayor Valerie Santos admitted at a meeting with Filipino American community leaders the morning after the Pacquiao-Cotto fight.

Santos, 36, is the highest ranking Fil-Am in city hall. She's also the first Asian-American to occupy the post of Deputy Mayor for Planning & Economic Development, perhaps one of the toughest jobs because of the recession.

"We would love boxing to come here in the District," she tells ABS-CBN News, as she pondered on the feasibility of a Pacquiao bout here.

She revealed she has already been talking with boxing promoters but the biggest obstacle was the venue. The city has three major-league stadiums but nothing that can host a major fight like those in Las Vegas.

Still, the thought of Manny Pacquiao holding one of his bouts in DC was a titillating thought for every Fil-Am here.

Santos was meeting with Fil-Am leaders to discuss next year's Philippine Festival in the District.

Part of Santos' job is promoting these festivals that provide an added lure for the city.

Implementing economic vision

DC Mayor Adrian Fenty chose Santos to replace her old boss Deputy Mayor Neil Albert last June (she was previously chief operating officer).

She is tasked with carrying out Fenty's economic vision and managing about $13 billion-worth of projects in public-private housing, retail, office and parks development already in the development pipeline.

"In Ms. Santos, we not only have a steady hand who knows the job, we have someone who is a consummate professional who will bring private-sector talents to get the job done," Fenty explained.

Before joining the city government, Santos served as vice president at real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle, and a manager at Ernst & Young's.

She specialized in public-private urban development.

As Deputy Mayor, she oversees a challenging mix of city agencies involved with housing, business development, banking and insurance, among others.

The Office of the Deputy Mayor is responsible for coordinating policies and projects related to affordable housing, business attraction and retention, workforce and economic development.

Proudly Pinoy

Santos is proud of her roots. "I feel very honored and supported by the Filipino community particularly as I enter this new job I tell people that I couldn't have done anything were it not for my parents," she averred.

Her parents immigrated to the Bay Area in California in the 1960s. Her father was originally from Bulacan, her mother from Zamboanga City.

"I tell people all the time that part of what keeps me motivated is wanting to make my parents proud, and my parents' many sacrifices to come here, leaving so much behind," Santos said.

"It keeps me motivated and very centered for my job," she stressed to ABS-CBN News.

She was born and raised in San Francisco.

Santos graduated from the Jesuit-run Santa Clara University in the Silicon Valley, and later earned an MBA and Master's of Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

Fresh from college, Santos went home and worked for a year as a volunteer at the Ateneo de Zamboanga.

"I was a regular teacher there, the pay was the equivalent of $120 a month and my rent was $20. It was a great experience," she recounted.

She said she sometimes got as far as bandit-infested Basilan.

Her time in Mindanao helped influence her choice of specialization.

"I was always interested in community development. My time in the Philippines, I got really interested in Mindanao. There are so many natural resources but very underdeveloped, very poorly staffed institutions," she noted.

Another reason for going back to the Philippines is to see her "lola".

"My father's family is in Pasig. My grandparents still have a store at the palengke. That's how they raised their nine kids. My mother's family is scattered around Zamboanga and elsewhere," she explained.

She still calls her parents regularly.

Deputy Mayor Valerie Santos is keeping her roots strong.