Would-be appointees surely realized their naivete by the time President Obama took office on January 21, 2009. (From then on, applications could be sent only through the White House job site.)
There was no reason for embarrassment, because who could blame them? Hope was in the air and people were convinced they could make a difference. Even the cynics, who came to see the résumé appeal as little more than a fundraising trick to harvest email addresses, can hold onto the memory of a time when optimism ruled.
Eduardo A. Angeles, age 49, didn’t upload his résumé in 2008. But he didn’t lose faith in his aspirations for his nation, his children and yes, his president. He went about his work, eventually earning national recognition for his ability to manage tremendous programs.
On June 23, 2014, the recent senior assistant city attorney for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office took the oath of office as a presidential appointee with the title, Associate Administrator for Airports in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
A politics wonk, Eddie had always followed the Beltway dramas as closely as the Congressional Quarterly, yet he didn’t hesitate to take a pay cut to serve his country.
“I have never been motivated by making a lot of money,” he said. “I have always wanted to give back to the country that has given me so much opportunity in life. Public service is my way of giving back.”
As the FAA’s associate administrator of airports, Eddie oversees $3.5 billion in annual Federal airport grants and passenger facility charge collections totaling $2 billion. He also manages national airport planning and development, including safety standards, design and engineering, certification, environmental processing and financing.
He does all this for 3,000 airports from Maine’s Portland International Jetport to Yap International Airport in Micronesia, San Juan Airport in Puerto Rico and Deadhorse Airport in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.
Not Atypical Immigrant
When I interviewed Eddie by phone, he repeatedly described his life as “a typical immigrant experience.” I originally thought he meant “atypical” because he preferred a clinical term to describe his rare journey to higher office.
Eddie started out at age seven with more potential than prospects when he accompanied his mother, Milagros Angeles, from his birthplace of Pasig Rizal, Philippines to Hawaii. They had US citizenship through his maternal grandfather. The plane left on September 21, 1972, shortly before President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. Eddie’s father, Daniel Alfonso, was left behind following his separation from Milagros.
His surname, Angeles, honors the sacrifices Milagros Angeles made for her son. “She was a single mom who supported us by working as a maid in the Presidio section of San Francisco,” Eddie recalled. “This is a typical immigrant experience of the first generation working hard to enable the second generation to succeed.”
Today, commuting to Washington, D.C. from Alexandria, Virginia, he credits public education as another key to his ascent in government. “A lot of opportunities in our country come from the availability of a free education,” he said, looking back to his childhood in Daly City, near San Francisco.
“I’m a product of a public school education in grade school, high school, college at the University of California at Santa Barbara and University of California, Hastings College of Law.”
Following law school, Eddie joined the San Francisco Attorney’s Office in the San Francisco International Airport’s Legal Division. Eight years later, he became senior assistant city attorney for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, within which he served as general counsel to Los Angeles World Airports. In this position, he oversaw legal matters for the four Southern California airports of Los Angeles International, Ontario International, Van Nuys and Palmdale.
Concurrent with his Los Angeles attorney work, Eddie was an adjunct faculty member of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and served on the State Bar of California’s Committee of Bar Examiners. He has been an elected school board member on the Jefferson Union High School’s Governing Board of Trustees and a Governor Edmund Brown appointee to the California Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians.
“I have dedicated my entire career to public service in working for local and now federal government,” Eddie stated with full conviction. “I have worked for the government since graduating from law school in 1990, so nearly 24 years now.”
Educating His Sons
Now middle aged, he and wife, Evelyne, are enjoying the early success of their two sons. Dannie is into his second year of medical school at the University of Virginia. Andrew is enrolled in the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.
Asked for his formula for raising super achievers, Eddie admitted, “I can’t take credit. I mainly just work and be there as a supportive father and husband. All of the credit is due to my wife. Like many Filipino families, the maternal figure handles the children’s education. Evelyne was their teacher. She ensured our sons were always being educated throughout the year, including summer and winter breaks.”
He added, “It’s important to immerse children in an education-centered environment for them to develop intellectually, and it should always be focused on love.”
Of the importance of the Filipino culture in his own career, he said, “Family values are at the core of Filipino culture. Young people depend on support from elders, and their sacrifices are acknowledged with respect. The hierarchy of respect based on age is an important part of our culture.”
A New Life
After a life almost entirely in the California sun, Eddie recently felt the first chill of fall and has been warned by his colleagues of the frosty winter ahead. Maybe he’ll have to plod to work through waist-high snow, get sloshed by a snowplow and eat his soup like a Popsicle, but he’ll certainly enjoy every sensation this rare honor brings.
“Whether you’re a first or second-generation Filipino in this country, my life is a reflection of what an immigrant can do,” he said. “I’m working for the first African American president of the United States. For me to be a part of his team makes me a part of that history.”
In a time when many Americans have grown disaffected by Washington politics, Eddie still encourages young people to join the government. “I recommend working for the government since it’s a very fulfilling career path that balances making a tremendous difference in our community and society yet at the same time you can still make enough money to support a family and enjoy a fair standard of living. Money never guarantees happiness and there are a lot of unhappy, rich folks. I am truly happy about my career choice.”
Eduardo Angeles was born too late for the New Frontier era of JFK and was 18 years into his public service career when Barack Obama took office. Even a transformative figure can’t outlast Katy Perry on the trending charts.
Real change no longer comes from the politicians who give stirring speeches, but from the workers who were drawn into public service by their conscience. The nation depends on folks like Eddie to inspire future generations of capable young men and women to dedicate their lives for the larger good.
Anthony Maddela helps bring vital social programs to public housing residents through the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles. He and wife, Susan, are raising two children, Charlotte, age twelve, and Gregory, ten.
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