AMAGASAKI, Hyogo Pref. – The youngest Japanese woman ever elected mayor has an unusual career history for a municipal leader, having been a flight attendant for 11 years.
Aya Shirai, a former employee of All Nippon Airways, was elected mayor of this industrial city Sunday and will take office Dec. 12.
Shirai, who professes a desire to understand everyone she meets, now wants to make Amagasaki “a place that offers residents fulfilling services.”
The 42-year-old Shirai spent four years of her airline career instructing new employees, seeking to discover their strong points.
Based on these experiences, she said, “I want to shake up City Hall by making maximum use of personnel skills and change the way the organization operates.”
Shirai quit her airline job in 1990 to set up and run a job-skills improvement firm. In 1993, she ran for a seat on the Amagasaki Municipal Assembly after judging that one member’s literacy level was, in her view, unsatisfactory.
While serving two four-year terms on the assembly, she tried to expand and improve pediatric emergency medical services in the city.
Shirai did not seek re-election last year, realizing that she had become alienated from the opinions of ordinary people and needed some time off to recharge.
Her mayoral campaign was inspired by what she charged was runaway spending on development projects pursued by the city administration, despite mounting municipal debts.
“If we replace the leadership, we can change the way money is being spent,” she said.
Shirai was backed by a range of individuals free of any party affiliations, as well as citizens’ groups.
She defeated the incumbent, Yoshio Miyata, 62,308 votes to 57,385, even though he was endorsed by five parties, including the Liberal Democratic Party.
“My victory owes much to the fact that a lot of people felt the need to bring politics back into the hands of citizens,” she said.
The immediate tasks facing Shirai are rebuilding the city’s finances and enhancing the transparency of its administration.
“I’m determined to pass on hope to the children, who will be responsible for our future, and turn this city into a place we can be proud of,” she said.
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