The ICAS Lectures


Changing the Landscape:
My Journey into Politics

Patty Kim

ICAS Summer Symposium

The Korean Diaspora
Challenges facing the Korean-American Community (KAC)
August 2, 2008 Saturday 9:30 AM
Montgomery County Community College Science Center room 214
340 DeKalb Pike, Blu Bell, PA 19422

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422


Biographic Sketch & Links: Patty Kim

Changing the Landscape:
My Journey into Politics

Patty Kim

Good Afternoon, everyone! It is great to be here with you today. My journey into politics is atypical and unique. To this day, the reaction of my friends who I haven't spoken to in years will laugh when I tell them I'm an elected official. The reason why is because I'm probably the last person anyone would expect to go into what Bill Clinton calls "a contact sport, you have to expect to get hit."

I am the middle child of three girls. I am the true definition of a middle child. I always want everyone to get along, I was the mediator in the family and I wanted to make everyone happy. I am also incredibly sensitive and naturally shy. With this type of personality, I could very well get eaten alive at my job but I don't. I will tell you why.

I got into politics because I knew I had so much. I don't mean that I am financially wealthy. I am very blessed -- if you will. I had the best education, parents who worked incredibly hard to make sure that I have everything I need and will always support me emotionally and financially, and because of that my future is very bright.

But when I see life in the inner city whether it was in D.C. where I volunteered or in Harrisburg, there is very little hope for many of the children in some neighborhoods. I can't help but compare how I grew up to the children running around in the projects. They have very little options and their future isn't as bright. I have always carried a deep conviction to help them, to help those who struggle to survive, who don't have a voice and feel powerless.

As a council member I have the incredible opportunity to help make a difference in my community by improving the quality of life for families. I am passionate about making our streets safer by supporting the police department and making sure our neighborhoods are clean which will ultimately drive out crime. I have the power to change laws, create new ones, and make sure funds go in the right places. I have a great job!

I can do my job without looking for ways to get noticed or receive credit. I will happily do things behind the scenes as long as it gets done. I know I have to let my residents know what I'm doing but I don't strive to get noticed and seek attention.

It is natural to want to be successful, be famous, or make a lot of money. For ten years, that was all that I could think about. I was a television news reporter and wanted to make it big. I worked incredibly hard to hone my on-air and reporting skills. I sacrificed a lot financially and personally to invest in my career. I was determined to make a certain income and be a household name in the news business. I wanted to be somebody important.

All that changed when I got married and had a baby. My whole perspective in life do a 180. I knew my career, no matter how far I got, wouldn't make me as happy as when I'm with my family. I still had a long way to go in the news business but I didn't think it was worth it anymore. I wanted to do something not for myself anymore but for my family and my community and use my gifts in other ways. I got the desire to be somebody out of my system and found it more rewarding to help somebody.

I first considered politics four years ago was when a friend who was a council member at that time -- asked me to run so we could serve together. Honestly, I thought that was a horrible idea. Back then council had an embarrassing reputation. There once was a fistfight between two women council members at a committee meeting and a couple of members were indicted on various charges. I did not want to be a part of this group. But my conviction pushed me to serve my community and help improve a city where I was raising my family.

But stepping into a political campaign is like jumping off a cliff and not knowing if your parachute will work. It's an incredibly vulnerable feeling when you put your name out there for the first time. People who don't know you want to criticize you and define you. I was literally shaking when I announced my candidacy.

Thankfully, I received a positive response after that. The media had a field day that a "tv personality" was now a political candidate and I received good coverage. My husband was already well connected in the business community and helped me to gain their support. It was such a relief. But now that I was in an election, it was constant hard work from that time on.

I went through the process of collecting about 500 signatures to get on the ballot, raise money through fundraisers, went door-to-door every weekend, give speeches, get interviewed by the media, show up to debates, and go to every event in the city and shake everyone's hand. I did that for a year.

For some of you, this may not seem hard but actually fun. But again, I am naturally shy even though I was a news reporter. When I presented the news, I really only reported to my camera person. To help me avoid getting nervous, I just convinced myself that I was talking to the camera lens and not to thousands of people watching. It worked for me. But when I'm debating or giving campaign speeches, there was a live audience and I could hear their approvals or disapprovals. It made me nervous and I hated going to those functions.

One of the highlights of my campaign was meeting the Korean business community for the first time. There are very few Asians actually living in the City of Harrisburg but a number of them work in the city. I had a huge surprise when a local Korean college professor drove past one of my yard signs one day and saw my website. He knew I was Korean with my last name and introduced me to the president of the Korean Business Association in Central Pennsylvania. The group gave me a generous check and supported me. Every corner grocery store put my sign up in their store front. I had great exposure in every neighborhood.

On the day of election was probably the most amazing experience. I knew I had gone through the same process that our past Presidents and elected officials did. It is truly experiencing the American political process.

On the day of the primary, I stood at a polling place for 12 hours giving out my literature and asking each person for their vote. I had no idea if I was going to win and as the day went on the desperation sank in. I kept thinking after all of my hard work for the past year and I may not get it. Only the top 4 candidates out of 11 would win the seats. I got so desperate that I actually helped move furniture for some neighbors to make sure I got their votes!

The lowest point of that day was when an incumbent from another election asked me if I was going to run again assuming I wasn't going to win that day. Now, who would say that and why? But when the polls closed that day and the votes were being counted, I knew I did everything I could and if I didn't win, it wasn't in the plan.

But I received a call from the Mayor's office saying that I was the number one vote getter. I almost fell to the ground because my knees were shaking so hard. I couldn't believe it! There was a huge victory party that evening and when I entered the room the whole room stood up applauding for me. People were shocked that I won including me!

I won because voters are hungry for honest people who will make good decisions for them. I remember going door to door and a gentleman said he was going to vote for me because I had an "honest face". People are tired of corruption, large egos and leaders bickering.

I believe the landscape of politics is changing. People are looking for someone different. I believe voters want more diversity in government so they feel more than one view point will be considered and a wider audience represented. They want younger candidates with energy and new ideas. It is a good time for a new generation to get involved.

As a second generation Korean-American, I don't have the same obstacles as my parents did. Whether it is a language barrier, immigrant mind status, or too consumed with trying to be financially comfortable to be a true participant in our community. I don't have any of those barriers and it is my responsibility to give back the way my parents couldn't.

My parents instilled in me to respect everyone especially your elders, stay grounded in my faith, and always work hard and if you get tired, work some more. Those values have helped me to achieve many of my goals.

Although I've never been to Korea or speak the language fluently, I am still proud to be Korean-American. I carry the responsibility to uphold our reputation as Korean-Americans in this society. The first generation Koreans or our parents laid down the foundation of being perceived as good citizens and hard workers. I am incredibly grateful for that because it has made my experience a lot easier and I have been accepted. Everywhere I go and every person I meet, I am conscience that I am a city councilmember and Korean-American. In Harrisburg, I'm usually the only Asian-American in the room. I want to keep representing the Asian- American community and show others that we are becoming more active and speaking up.

There's a lot of talent in this room and I see bright futures in front of me. I'm excited and hopeful for what the students here will become. I want to see students use their gifts and do things that they're passionate about. And remember to give something back to your community because we have so much. I will only be successful when I experience the fulfillment of sharing what I have and seeing others benefit from my gifts.

Thank you so much for your attention. It's been a pleasure.

This page last updated 8/21/2008 jdb

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