Who is a real hero of Korea?

In Korea’s modern history, there has not been a Korean that could be called a “hero” since Admiral Yi Sun-sin, a war hero during Japan’s invasion in 1592-98. Of course, we have “national singers,” Olympic gold medalists, and actors in the “Korean Wave.” However, there is not a historical hero for whom the entire nation can revere.

When late President Kim Dae-jung became the first Korean to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, our nation was deeply inspired.

However, our disappointment was just as deep when news broke about his massive slush fund located in New York. Although it was never proven whether those allegations were true or not, it seems that most people feel the matter would never be disclosed in detail anyway.

The nation had high expectations for former President Roh Moo-hyun, a young man who seemed full of spirit. However, it was not long after his inauguration when he was impeached by the National Assembly, a shameful event without precedent in Korean history.

Although he was soon reinstated by a decision of the Constitutional Court, his popularity continued to plummet as the so-called “386 Generation,” young and inexperienced amateurs that surrounded him, led him to make a series of bad decisions.

Once news of the money-laundering issue involving his family broke, he became depressed and eventually committed suicide.

Even long after his death, there are still accusations of him having an illegal hidden bank fund.

Former President Kim Young-sam was the first non-military president elected since Gen.

Park Chung-hee’s 1961 military coup, and the people had high expectations when he showed his determination to clean up “Hanahoe,” an elite military group highly influential to the presidential scene. However, Kim’s image crashed after scandals related a hidden presidential campaign fund and his son’s involvement in bribery charges.

Presidents Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Taewoo were sent to prison for slush funds accumulated during their presidency. Park, who became president after the coup and ruled the country 18 years, was assassinated. And the nation’s first President Syngman Rhee was routed by the April 19, 1960, student uprising.

It is a sad reality that we have no former president that can be revered as a national hero.

Prime Minister-designate Kim Tae-ho was in national headlines almost every day since his nomination. He was a rising a star, a tall and handsome governor in his 40s. Some said his nomination was a stepping stone to the presidency, and the people were moved by his dramatic success story from a youth spent in poverty.

It seemed certain that he would become a hero in 2010. So what happened? During his confirmation hearings last month, he continually had to apologize for changing his story when asked questions lawmakers over his dubious ties with Park Yeon-cha, jailed CEO of the Busan-based shoemaker Taekwang, who offered illegal funds to politicians and bureaucrats including President Roh Moo-hyun. He had to give up his nomination due to a lack of morality and integrity.

Coupled with other Cabinet nominees and their ethical wrongdoings, the public was disappointed to watch the nationally televised confirmation hearings. People wondered why more morally and ethically fitting candidates could not be found in the entire country.

However, not everything is so bad. Our economy has rapidly progressed, despite everything going on politics, to the point where Korea has escaped its postwar poverty and is now the 15th-largest economy in the world.

Our sense of morality and justice, put aside in the process of escaping poverty, has now reached a high level. Watching the recent confirmation hearings made me feel like Koreans have a higher standard for their political leaders.

Is it a stretch to find hope in the fact that the debatably trivial wrongdoings that took down Kim and two other Cabinet nominees might have been ignored in the old days? No. Those wrongdoings may have been the norm in the past; now, they are not being overlooked any longer.

An example of this can be found in the resignation of Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Yu Myung-hwan. Early this month, he was forced to resign over a scandal involving his daughter who was given an unfair advantage through a specially tailored employment program to be hired by his own ministry. This might have been overlooked in the past; instead, it led to his downfall.

Compare this to a similar case in America.

In 1989, John Tower, a secretary of defensenominee and a big name in American politics, failed his confirmation vote in the Senate by a 53-47 vote, despite 24 years of service in that same Senate. He was the first man to fail a confirmation vote in 30 years. What was his problem? One issue was that he was a heavy drinker and very fond of women.

Despite the fact that these are merely personal issues unrelated to his politics, that he had never had any legal problems from his drinking and had never been charged with sexual harassment, he was still voted down by the Senate.

Even when he made a pledge to quit drinking upon his confirmation, the Senate didn’t believe him and rejected his nomination, based entirely on his past unethical and immoral behavior. I am certain that one day even in Korea a candidate wishing to be a head of government will have to avoid women and alcohol completely.

Because our ethical standards have been raised so high, it seems that becoming a hero will become more difficult. We have had many shameful incidents in our country’s political past.

It is painful to remember having to send former Presidents elected by our people to prison once their terms had expired, and I hope that we never see that again. We have seen our nation take major strides toward becoming a leading nation of the world. Now is the time for a new hero to emerge.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).



Hankook Ilbo 9/13/10

‘Golf Tournament for Korean American Day’ was held at Virginia Oaks Golf Club on September 11. Jay Kim is chairman of the tournament.


Joong Ang Ilbo 9/15/10

Jay Kim gave a congratulatory speech at the celebration of the publication of Tai Young Lee’s (Ph.D., CEO of PTC IPM) book on personal investment and asset management, which was held at Turf Valley Resort, Maryland on September 9.


Chosun Ilbo 9/25/10

The sound of violins reverberated through former House Representative Jay Kim’s house in Fairfax County, Virginia, near Washington D.C., on the evening of September 29.

Violinist Jihae Park captivated the audience of about 50 people by her passionate performance. The half-hour concert, featuring Park playing famous classical pieces and Korean songs, was met with rapturous applause. Before her encore, Park thanked Mr. and Mrs. Jay Kim for giving her the opportunity to perform for such a large private audience.

Before Park’s performance, a “Washington Form” was also held in former Congressman Kim’s house. Korean Ambassador Han Duk-soo, Forum President Park Yoon-shik, and other dignitaries discussed possible ways to have the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement ratified as soon as possible.

The three-story house of former Congressman Kim has become a cultural gathering place for Korean-Americans and Koreans who visit the D.C. area. After last year’s expansion of the basement and the living room to accommodate over 100 people at a time, Kim has used his home to hold events related to culture, arts, academics, and politics.

One event Kim has held in his house is an open rehearsal for the Susie Kim Memorial Concert, held annually at the Kennedy Center in memoriam of Korean-American Susie Kim, who died of cancer at a young age. Another, last January, was a party to celebrate the publication of Han Sung-joo’s book. A third is a party for around 70 Korean students planning on interning in the U.S., featuring a spur-of-the-moment lecture from Kim. And it was in Kim’s house where campaign parties were held for Mark Kim, the first Korean-American elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, and for Mayor of Irvine, CA Kang Suk-hee. Former Congressman Kim has stated that he owes a lot to both Korea and the U.S., and he wanted to make his home a place of gathering to support those in the fields of culture, arts, and politics from both countries.

Former Congressman Kim received a lot of help from his wife, Jennifer Ahn, in making his house a place of gathering. Ahn, who runs IMS (an advertising firm), has taken sole responsibility for inviting guests and preparing food at these parties. Ahn, a sister-in-law of singer Cho Yong-pil, said that she learned a lot from her late sister (Ahn Jin-hyun) hosting parties at her home.

(2) Winning House election

Jay Kim speaks during his campaign trail in a city in California before the general elections in 1992. He was victorious in the polls and became the first Korean-American to be elected to the House of the Representatives.

/ Korea Times file

By Jay Kim

It was early February 1992 when I decided to enter the arena of U.S. national politics. At the time I was the mayor of Diamond Bar, Calif., the first ever Asian mayor of a city of 80,000 mainly Caucasian residents.

Working as a mayor of the city, small though it was, gave me an eye for politics and made me interested in the larger political stage. I became enamored with the idea of running for a California seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

During that time, a great opportunity arose. Two new California seats were added to the House due to the state’s population growth ― one for the northern part of the state, and one for the southern part, which happened to encompass the area near Diamond Bar.

It was too great an opportunity for me to pass up, since the seat was part of a new district with no incumbent to run against. Having made the decision to run, I spent many sleepless nights thinking of the prospect of being the first Korean-American member of the House.

I created an elaborate campaign strategy. The first thing I had to do was hire a campaign manager as soon as possible. Unlike Korea, it is necessary in the U.S. to hire a veteran, well-known campaign manager for an election at the state or national level.

After looking at records of past campaigns, I hired Bob Gouty, a veteran campaign manager. Gouty was a rather sharp looking man despite being rather short and of large carriage. He was well known for his aggressive campaign strategies.

We expected that California State Assemblyman Charles Bader, a local veteran politician, would be our chief opponent and James V. Lacy as the next strong opponent. Lacy was a lawyer for the U.S. Department of Commerce.

He would not be an easy opponent because he was familiar with federal government and famous for his oratorical skills. Our research showed that four more candidates would run for the office.

The results of the first poll were very disappointing. Bader was running in first with 70 percent, Lacy in second with 20 percent, and I was in third with a mere 5 percent. Gouty asked me if I was absolutely sure that I wanted to pursue this campaign.

I told him yes, and he would later say that he was merely testing my determination. He actually believed we had a good chance to win, but a lot of work was still necessary. I wouldn’t drop out just because of one public poll. In all actuality, I felt good running third in a poll based entirely around name recognition, especially since my campaign had not yet begun.

As it happened, the preliminary poll also showed that many voters were sick of politicians and lawyers. We would soon tailor my main campaign strategy to emphasize that I was neither a professional politician nor a lawyer who makes a living through a silver tongue, but a hard-working engineer and businessman.

We had two campaign messages. The first was that government should be run like a private enterprise. I stated that a private business goes into bankruptcy if it doesn’t have sufficient money to cover an overdraft, but our government merely prints more money to cover a cash shortage, resulting in a huge national deficit for future generations.

I felt that this way of doing things should not be allowed any longer. Our government should cut costs instead of trying to increase revenues by raising taxes, just like private enterprises reduce their costs rather than raising their prices.

The second message was a promise of a self-imposed term limit to my constituents; I would not run for more than three terms, since staying too long in Washington tended to make a representative out of touch and arrogant.

My campaign message was simple: “Do you want to send a career politician who spent the past decades in professional politics in Sacramento? Or do you want to send one more lawyer to Congress when we already have too many lawyers there (nearly two thirds of the House had been former lawyers)? If you don’t want either, send me to Congress.

I ran a small business and spent many sleepless nights worrying about meeting payroll, worrying about meeting tax obligations which seemed to grow bigger and bigger, and wondering about where all my hard earned tax monies were being spent.

Americans’ preference for politicians who were CEOs began to grow in the early 1990s. Lacy, who was running second in the polls, didn’t initially take me seriously, and his campaign attacks were primarily focused on the first-place Bader.

They frequently exchanged personal attacks. Watching their fight with delight, I concentrated my efforts on letting people know who I was and what I had done for my community while I was a city councilman and a mayor.

I was also talking about myself honestly, letting the people know that I am an immigrant student from Korea, who came with only $200 in my pocket and finished college while also working at night.

My story is the embodiment of the American dream. In this way, I didn’t know then that I actually took advantage of my top two rivals’ fighting bitterly against each other. Slowly but surely, my poll numbers began to improve.

I stated that our deficit wouldn’t be reaching astronomical proportions if the government had been managed like a private business, and I argued this point by presenting my example of running Diamond Bar.

Most cities with a population around 80,000 have about 200 public servants; Diamond Bar had only about 20 because we outsourced every service except essential public services. Even with such a small staff, our services were top of the line.

I especially emphasized that by running my government like a private business, our city had a budget surplus drawing interest in banks while other cities were suffering deficits. As time passed, my campaign message began to have a great effect, as the voters responded and my popularity began to steadily grow in the polls.

In a final poll taken only three weeks before the day of the election, I had finally drawn neck and neck with Bader, with Lacy very closely behind. Suddenly, these two candidates, never believing I’d be a serious contender, stopped their attacks on each other and began to furiously attack me instead. However, this happened too late for them to turn the public against me.

I won the Republican primary, and defeated the Democratic candidate handily in the general election to win the House seat. I was lauded all over the world as the first Korean-American ever elected to the U.S. Congress. An American history textbook dedicated a full page to my story, labeling me as a “hero” and the American dream come true!

At the time, I thought this was because of my greatness. However, with time having passed, I now see that I had not been elected because I was great, but because I was fortunate. Every situation had worked to my advantage, I had a lot of help from friends and volunteers, and the Korean-American community gave me a massive boost.

But most of all, it was God’s will that had brought me to office. However, having been on such a fast track in politics from city councilman to city mayor to U.S. Congressman, I forgot this message and let my arrogance reach sky high levels. I became condescending and thought too highly of myself, and this would be a great problem during my time in office.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).