Political Risers: Cleared for takeoff: First Officer Jeremy Tam

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Jeremy Tam (譚文豪) has earned his wings in the cockpit – and as a feisty official the pilot union. Now he flies the Civic Party flag as he seeks clearance for landing in a Kowloon East LegCo seat.

Outside the offices of Civic Party’s Kowloon East branch in Kai Tin Estate and Wang Tau Hom Estate, one can find Jeremy Tam Man-ho (譚文豪) and Alan Leong Ka-kit (梁家傑) with their job titles – ‘civilian pilot’ (民航機師) and ‘barrister-in-law’ (大律師).

Alan Leong has chosen to have his wings clipped and is running as #2 on Mr Tam’s ticket to lend name recognition – not to win. Mr Tam will give up the free flights, the stylish uniforms and the flyboy image for the hard slog of being an opposition legislator if he wins.

From the sky to the ground

Born in Hong Kong, the 41-year-old Tam attended Australian high school in the early 1990’s. Later, he earned his bachelor’s degree, majoring in mechanical and space engineering in the University of Queensland. A master’s degree in transport engineering at the University of New South Wales followed. In 2001, he was one of the select chosen to be a civilian pilot, a dream job for many.

But he didn’t just see action in the cockpit and sought to make change for his colleagues. He was a member of Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association (HKAOA) fighting for equal pay and making changes to airline regulations. He sought to bring his concerns for society to a larger stage – public politics.

Prior to joining the Civic Party, Tam ran as an independent in the 2007 District Council election. “I joined the race as an independent since I wanted to see whether a candidate can survive without a party’s support,” he says.

While some manage that feat, Tam didn’t quite nail the landing. He lost by a small margin compared to the winner, and he admits he found it very tough for an independent candidate to run for an election. A party can lend support on a wide range of issues from finance to manpower. FO Tam decided he needed help and started taking a close look at the current parties in Hong Kong and found the Civic Party worked for him.

He joined the party in October 2010. “I picked Civic Party as the party that most shares the values I believe in,” he says.

The trail blazer

Mr Tam was appointed to be in charge of the Civic Party’s development in New Territories West (NTW), where the party had little exposure at that time. However, the party did not support him well in terms of resources. Mr Tam made do with his own efforts and a part-time staffer from the party.

“I had to work as a one-man team in most times. From meeting people to handling paper work, these were all my duties,” Tam describes. “However, I got used to the working style already when running my campaign in 2007, so at that time being a one-man team didn’t bother me.”

Mr Tam, on behalf of Civic Party, ran the 2011 District Council election in the same constituency as in 2007 – Tung Chung North. He lost again, though, his party member Kwok Ka-Ki (郭家麒), a medical practitioner, won the party’s breakthrough seat in NTW. Tam’s local efforts in party building paid off, even if he didn’t achieve cruising altitude.

After Alan Leong Ka-kit was re-elected in 2012 LegCo election in Kowloon East (KLE), Tam was invited to help manage Leong’s office in the constituency. He was finally given a stable office with human and material resources to fulfill his goal of serving the community.

“I’ve spent four years serving KLE. Whatever people call me for help, no matter how trifling [their issue is], I still love to serve them by myself,” Tam tells Harbour Times. “Hong Kong people don’t often call political figures for help, so whenever they call me, I won’t say ‘no’ to them.”

Tam lost again in the District Council election last year, but his four-years of service in KLE has earned him the leading spot on the Civic Party ticket for KLE, as party stalwart Alan Leong takes a bow and heads offstage.

Aviation policy pro

Tam is confident of applying his expertise and experience of air transport in the LegCo job. “Only a small amount of government officials have the qualifications that I have, so whatever policies related to air transport the government suggests or announces, I am capable enough to critique and criticise the ideas,” Tam explains.

Tam writes numerous articles and has a Facebook page where he shares stories about his pilot career and answers questions about aviation. During the debate of the third runway, he stood strongly against the construction. The Hong Kong Airport Authority announced last year that it would be investigating the possibility of a second airport or fourth runway, making Tam’s experience valuable in the next LegCo session.

Many people would like to know how Tam is going to balance his work schedule if he is elected, and he is prepared for the question. “In the recent one or two years, I’ve already slashed the time on my pilot job, from frequency to duration of flights,” Tam says. “If I’m elected, LegCo duty must be my first priority, and if I’m forced to choose from one of the two, I would be a full-time LegCo member. Life is a matter of choices.”