Korean American Mayor To Run for Congress

Korean American Mayor To Run for Congress

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Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang holds the reputation of being a hardworking and straightforward politician. During his run for the city council, the amiable 58-year-old native of South Korea spent ten days meeting with some 20,000 households, looking to drum up support in this largely white, and republican suburb of Los Angeles.

“If I had to guess, I’d say I met with close to a million people,” said Kang. Now into his second term as the city’s first first-generation Korean American mayor, Kang is now getting ready to take the next step in his political career, a seat on the U.S. House of Representatives.

In an interview with the Korea Times, Kang spoke of his journey from newly arrived immigrant to head of a major metropolitan area. Having arrived in the U.S. in 1977, part of a larger wave of Korean migration to the U.S., Kang’s first job was as a salesman for the electronics giant Circuit City.

“I told the person giving the interview that in three months I’d prove to them that they made the right decision in hiring me,” Kang recalls of his first interview. Within months Kang became the top salesman, moving up to store manager three years after starting with the company.

In 1990 Kang was again promoted to director of one of Circuit City’s flagship stores in Irvine, tasked with reviving flagging sales. “Within four months sales were up, and I was convinced that in the U.S. anything was in fact possible.”

Kang’s sense of optimism in the possibilities of his new life in the U.S. took a hit, however, when he was passed over for another promotion. In his recently published autobiography “Beyond the Glass Ceiling,” Kang writes the experience marked the first time that he “felt the limits of success” in the U.S.

Still determined to pursue his American Dream, Kang ventured into the shoe business after his departure from Circuit City, using his sales experience to open a store in the Irvine area. Then the L.A. riots erupted in the spring of 1992, following a not guilty verdict in the trial of four police officers charged with the beating of African American Rodney King. Korean businesses became engulfed in the mayhem.

“I watched as Koreans lost their entire fortune in a single day, and realized the community needed a political representative,” Kang said. “In the most democratic country in the world, it was a shock to witness the kind of injustice I saw back then.”

Irvine’s First Minority Mayor

As a member of the Korean American Democratic Committee, Kang worked on issues involving Korea-U.S. relations. During this time he befriended then Irvine Mayor Beth Krom, who became an active supporter of Kang’s bid for a seat on the city council. Kang launched his campaign in 2004, 27 years after settling in the city.

Elected mayor in 2008, Kang has focused much of his attention on economic growth and education, steering the city through a tight financial squeeze while preventing damaging budget cuts to local schools. Under his tenure Irvine was named both the safest and greenest city in America.

A centrist politician, Kang won a second term as mayor in 2010 with 68 percent of the votes. After his reelection, supporters began to ask Kang what his post-mayoral ambitions were. That’s when the idea began to take shape in Kang’s mind of running for a seat in the House. “I hope to represent the Korean community and my district as a whole in Washington.”

If elected Kang will be the first and only Korean American in Congress. He faces a tough challenge from GOP Reps. Dana Rohrabacher and John Campbell.

In an announcement released to the press last Friday declaring his candidacy, Kang said ““America needs leaders in Congress with real world experience to help our nation create jobs, balance the budget, improve education, protect our environment and preserve our medicare system. This is exactly the kind of experience and proven record of accomplishment that I will bring to Washington.”