Star Trek Helped One Icon Find A Career In Public Service

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

stephen collins star trek

As Sulu in Star Trek, George Takei became a mainstream celebrity whose popularity has only grown over the years. However, after The Original Series ended and before The Motion Picture began, the legendary actor traded in his phaser for a life in public service. After narrowly losing a special election to join the Los Angeles City Council, he was appointed to the Southern California Rapid Transit District, a position he maintained until 1984.

A Taste For Politics

george takei

George Takei’s life in public service began with political ambitions. In 1972, he was an alternate delegate from California to the Democratic National Convention. Apparently getting a taste for politics, he decided to run for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council, but his previous time on Star Trek ended up hurting him as much as it helped him.

Equal Time

george takei

Being a famous actor helped George Takei win over prospective voters, but political rivals objected to his fame giving him an unfair advantage. A local television station stopped airing Star Trek reruns in order to abide by the FCC’s rule requiring stations to give equal time to each candidate.

At one point, even an episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series had to be “blacked out” according to Takei “because my voice accompanied an idealized drawing of me” (that sounds petty, but Takei does have the most distinctive voice in Trek history).

Second Place

george takei

Despite this supposed advantage, George Takei came in second place, losing to his opponent David Cunningham Jr. by only 1,647 votes. Perhaps because of the good race he ran or perhaps because of his fame, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley soon secured a very different kind of public service job for the man who had once flown the Enterprise from one destination to another.

Specifically, Takei was appointed to the Southern California Rapid Transit District board of directors, and he became part of the team that created the Los Angeles subway system.

Broad Appeal

In this new position, it’s fair to say that George Takei thrived: he served on the board from 1973 to 1984, eventually becoming its vice president. He retained a great relationship with Mayor Bradley, whom he said cheekily labeled Takei “his futuristic bus driver.”

The actor also found that his time on Star Trek helped him get support from regular people instead of wealthy patrons: “If I’d been Bozo the Clown, it wouldn’t have helped,” he said,” but my Star Trek image gives me a broad-based support, which has kept me from having to go to fat cats for aid.”

Public Service Was Important To Takei

Perhaps the biggest testament to how seriously George Takei took this new role is that he continued with it even as Star Trek made the jump to the big screen. He even had to leave the set of The Motion Picture to cast the tie-breaking vote needed to bring the Los Angeles subway system to life.

While in this position, he began to run for California State Assemblyman (District 46) in 1980, but he backed out of the race after his opponent began the classic argument that local stations should stop running Star Trek reruns due to FCC regulations.

While it’s been decades since George Takei had a public service job, he has frequently used his fame to serve as an activist for a variety of progressive causes. In fact, we’d bet all the latinum hidden in Quark’s that Takei will have quite a bit to say during this year’s presidential election.

Some cynical critics think actors should say little about politics, but it certainly seems Takei has earned the right to speak his mind on these matters after a lifetime of dedicated public service.

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