By Cooper Aspegren:
According to the new Palo Alto mayor Yiaway Yeh, his time at Gunn helped build his foundation for understanding and devotion to public affairs. “I got really involved in student government at Gunn,” Yeh said. “That was what laid the path for my being interested in public service.”
The Palo Alto City Council unanimously elected Yeh as city mayor on Jan. 3. According to current council member Joe Klein, several Palo Alto High School graduates have been elected mayor. Mayor Yeh, however, is the first Gunn graduate to hold the position. Elected to Palo Alto’s city council in 2007, Yeh has served as vice mayor, and has served as the assistant city auditor of Oakland. Yeh will focus exclusively on being Palo Alto mayor full-time during 2012.
At Gunn, Yeh was elected sophomore class president and co-student body president, and helped start Gunn Service Day with a friend. In a campaign video released during his run for city council, Yeh stated that organizing the event was more enjoyable than taking AP tests. “The times that I was able to get reflective and feel more connected to what I was actually doing were through community service,” Yeh said.
After graduating from Gunn in 1996, Yeh attended American University and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, later serving two years in the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso. “That’s when I started to learn about careers in government service,” Yeh said. “I got really intrigued by it.”
Outgoing mayor Sid Espinosa praises Yeh as a colleague and a successor. “He is a smart, thoughtful and experienced public servant,” Espinosa sad. “He knows the policy issues and Palo Alto inside and out.”
Klein officially nominated Yeh as a candidate for mayor. “I think that in Yiaway’s case it would be a slam dunk that he would be elected,” Klein said. “I think he’s done a very good job on the council and I was glad to be the one to speak first and explain why I thought he should be the mayor.”
In a process Yeh described as “the sausage making of government,” the city council convened at an annual retreat for the third consecutive year to prioritize city finances, land use and transportation, environmental sustainability, emergency preparedness and long-term community collaboration for youth well-being. “The goal of setting priorities is to provide direction to all of the city staff that this is what we really want to focus on as a council,” Yeh said. “The role and authority of council is to set that policy direction for the city.”
Yeh has applauded Gunn’s efforts to ensure the happiness of students. “There’s a lot going on during adolescence,” Yeh said. “It’s really commendable what all the students are doing on the Gunn campus to be peer support.”