By Nadia Trinidad, ABS CBN North America Bureau
SAN FRANCISCO – Former San Francisco mayor Art Agnos put it succinctly: when one bows out of public service, he said all the trappings of power goes away but this nagging question remains: “Did I leave the community better than I found it?”
For Anita Sanchez, a Filipina who was the highest ranking employee of the city and county of San Francisco, the answer can be found in the body of work she leaves behind. The recently retired executive director of the San Francisco Civil Service Commission is remembered by colleagues for her firm but fair hand in overseeing the merit system for the employment of the city’s 25,000 employees.
“You know when most people say that when someone is kind there’s a possibility they’re not going be successful? Well, she’s one of the very few who is successful and a kind person,” colleague Jocelyn Quintos said.
The sitting mayor said he will always look to Sanchez as his mentor. “When I first began in Art Agnos’ administration there was somebody that had to hold my hand and teach me a lot of things that I didn’t know, let me understand how the system worked because she was there before I was. And that person that I confided in a lot was Anita Sanchez,” said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.
Sanchez was a student activist in the early seventies who successfully pushed for the creation of a school of ethnic studies at the San Francisco State University that would offer classes like Philippine history and culture. While working for her master’s degree in social work she lobbied before California accrediting agencies to recognize the college degrees of foreign medical graduates.
And that’s when she met then assemblymen Art Agnos who immediately hired her in his staff. “That is her greatest contribution: empowering people who had no power so that they could feel that they were paid attention to when they had a problem,” Agnos said.
On the day she retired after thirty years in public service three mayors got together in her honor and declared an Anita Sanchez Day. Her friends in the Filipino community came in full force. “I feel so proud. And my love for her as a friend is endless,” Gloria Navarette said.
Sanchez resolves to continue her advocacy. “In solidarity with other communities, when we have a united front, that is when we begin to make some change,” she said. For in the end, she believes that aspiring for a better community is work that’s never really done.