Irvine Mayor Announces Congressional Run

Wednesday, July 6, 2011 | Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang Wednesday announced a bid to become the second Korean-American to hold a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Kang, a Democrat, will likely be running against Republican incumbent John Campbell in the 2012 election. The California Citizens Redistricting Commission is still drawing the boundaries of the new district that will include at least parts of Irvine.

Preliminary maps of the new district combine parts of the 48th and 46th congressional districts, which are represented by Campbell and Republican Dana Rohrabacher. In addition to Irvine, the new district would include several South County and coastal cities like Irvine, Laguna Beach and Huntington Beach. Rohrabacher has yet to announce whether he will run for the newly formed district.

Kang became the first Korean-American mayor of an American city with a population more than 100,000 when he was first elected Irvine mayor in 2008. He was subsequently reelected the city's mayor by a landslide last year.

Kang said he would run on issues that are more or less standard — reviving the nation's economy, advancing public education, preserving Medicare for seniors and serving the nation's military veterans.

Kang said he has the kind of deal-making skill needed in Congress and points to a funding-swap agreement between Irvine and the Orange County Transportation Authority that essentially allows Irvine to fund a shuttle-bus program for 30 years without dipping into its general fund.

"I'm all for uniting every resource so we can make things happen," Kang said. "I think that's what we need in this country, this community. That's what I'm really interested in bringing to the table."

The finalized district will have a white, Republican majority and with the addition of Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa will focus more on the coast than before. The changes could also mean Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher might also be a competitor. His neighboring 46th Congressional District currently includes Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa.

Given the demographics of the area, Campbell would be a tough opponent to beat. Campbell was first elected in 2005, and last year while hardly campaigning, he trounced Irvine Councilwoman Beth Krom, a Democrat.

The news of Kang's run was first reported in the Korean press last week. The Korean Beacon, a news website, quoted from a press release dated July 1. Korea Daily, a newspaper, reported that Kang announced his decision that day at the Oxford Palace Hotel in Los Angeles' Koreatown.

Kang said he intentionally broke the news in the Korean press as a nod to his "rockstar" status in the Korean community. "I just wanted to meet with the Korean community first," Kang said. "I wanted to get together with the people that supported me."

He also said he was more concerned about the possible spin in the mainstream media. He acknowledged that there would be "a lot of people paying attention" and "a lot more questions" from mainstream reporters.

The decision also places an early spotlight on Kang's campaign strategy. Many of the donations that flowed into Kang's mayoral campaign last year came from Koreans in the Los Angeles area.

The Korea Times, a newspaper, noted in its story that the district in which Kang is running has many white, Republican voters. In the story, Kang asks for support from Koreans nationwide.

Jay Kim, who represented California's 41st Congressional District in San Bernardino County, is the only Korean-American to have held a seat in Congress. Kim served from 1993 to 1999.

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