On November 6, Ron Kim was elected as the ﬁrst Korean-American state legislator in New York history. The assemblyman-elect sat down with members of The Classic to detail his agenda and share his story.
Elected to the 40th State Assembly District Seat, Mr. Kim is currently in the “transition period,” the time in which a candidate learns about the concerns of the community in order to effectively take action from the ﬁrst day in ofﬁce, beginning in January.
“It really hasn’t sunk in,” he said in regard to the historical nature of his victory. “I never strived to be something, but to do something. I’m more issue driven and vocation driven. Still, I’m proud for this opportunity, and the massive support from the community.”
While in the process of vacating his campaign ofﬁce to prepare for his new position, Assemblyman Kim shared stories from his life that led to his November win. “I immigrated to the United States when I was seven years old,” he said. “My parents were looking for more economic opportunities in America. I grew up helping my parents in their grocery store. It was a small business, but it got us by.” Politics quickly became an instrumental aspect of Mr. Kim’s youth. He said, “My father had a notion that American democracy is better than South Korea’s. As a young kid, I’ve always been fascinated by democracy and politics.”
Mr. Kim graduated from Hamilton College in 2002. Though he majored in political science, he also discovered a passion for sports. Mr. Kim had played tennis in high school, but he “found an afﬁnity for football” at Hamilton and joined its team. Politics, however, remained at the forefront both during and after college. Mr. Kim explained, “You have to be relentless about pursuing what you want to do.”
After Hamilton, Comptroller John Liu helped launch Mr. Kim’s career. “John Liu has been my mentor for ten years.” said Mr. Kim. “When I ﬁrst got involved in politics, there weren’t many Asians. But John Liu set a pipeline; he is truly a trail blazer. Then I realized that a person like me can also enter the ﬁeld. My goal was to be a public servant, to give back to the community, and now, I want to help those who want to give back to the community too.”
Mr. Kim laid out his planned approach to community issues. “I believe that we need good relationships with local decision makers as well as the local police and the ﬁre departments. It takes a collaboration of people to identify problems within the community. Together, we can navigate through bureaucracies to ﬁnd the best way to improve the quality of life.”
Mr. Kim also discussed the diversity of the local area. “I am going to focus on immigration issues,” he said. “I want the new wave of people who come here to have the same opportunities as I did. I will make sure to provide the best policies for immigrant families. I want to improve the businesses structure and tax beneﬁts, raise the minimum wage, give consumers more power, and create more jobs for local businesses.”
Expanding upon his views on immigration, Mr. Kim mentioned the Dream Act and his support for child immigrants on their path to citizenship. “It is a very progressive policy. There are talented students who want to pursue the American Dream. Losing talented students would be detrimental to the community, and all students who want to give back to the community deserve this chance. I feel that it is an important investment to turn these students into productive citizens in the future.”
The assemblyman-elect also called for improvements in education. “For the last ten years, the mayor has taken control,” said Mr. Kim. “He has not met the goals that he had set. There are not enough talks about engagement and focus on smaller class sizes but there are plenty of talks about charter schools. Limiting resources for teachers was too much of a risk. We need more funding to build on what we already have.”
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Mr. Kim advocated new preventative measures. “In order to improve our environment, we must endeavor to rethink the way we build our infrastructure. Studies have shown that damaging ﬂoods are possible and are becoming more frequent, it is something we must act upon.”
Many students from Townsend Harris volunteered for the Ron Kim campaign, and some live in his district.
Mr. Kim offered a few words of wisdom for Townsend Harris students.“You guys have a lot of talent,” he said. “You need to be socially responsible and move forward. If there are others in the community who are not as successful, you need to work collectively to solve the problems in society. We always have to think about the next generation by being open minded and by embracing diversity. Sometimes, people don’t take enough advantage of what they have. You can learn so much from each other. That way, we will get to where we will need to be.”