Ron Kim, A Self-Described “Nobody From Flushing,” Seizes The Progressive Spotlight


For all of its political fervor, New York Metropolis continues to be a spot the place it’s potential for state lawmakers to toil in relative obscurity for years. Such was the case with Ron Kim, a five-term Democratic Assemblymember from Queens whose conflict with Governor Andrew Cuomo over the state’s underreporting of nursing house deaths has catapulted him into nationwide view.

Studies of what Kim described as a threatening cellphone name from the governor have given approach to a broader (and long-simmering) dialogue of Cuomo’s aggressive political techniques, in addition to introduced added urgency to the hassle to strip him of the emergency powers he has held throughout the pandemic. By all accounts, Cuomo, a three-term Democrat whose recognition had soared final 12 months throughout his streak of day by day coronavirus briefings, is now dealing with a disaster that would harm his legacy and political future. He has known as the assaults on him politically motivated and accused Kim of mendacity about their cellphone dialog.

Kim now finds himself on the opposite finish of the spectrum. The 41-year-old legislator, who final week self-deprecatingly referred to himself as a “no person from Flushing,” has wasted little time in grabbing the highlight. He has penned two op-eds in Newsweek and the Guardian calling for Cuomo’s impeachment and a full investigation. And in an indication of his newly minted nationwide profile, he stated that former members of Bernie Sanders’s presidential marketing campaign not too long ago reached out to him and at the moment are advising him on his media technique. The checklist of lawmakers who’ve joined his name for an investigation consists of Consultant Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

On Wednesday, he upped the ante, holding a press convention with a number of elected officers in entrance of Metropolis Corridor demanding that Congress open an official investigation into Cuomo. Hours earlier, a former aide accused the governor of sexually harassing her over a 3 12 months interval.

“Ron Kim has a second that involves few individuals,” stated Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran political guide. “He could make himself a bigger determine than an assemblyman.”

Mike McKee, a distinguished tenant rights activist who serves because the treasurer of the Tenants Political Motion Committee, stated he was already planning to method his board about making contributions to Kim’s marketing campaign. The PAC raised $130,000 for Democratic Meeting candidates final 12 months, a decrease than normal quantity because of the pandemic, he stated.

“He is been actually terrific on tenant rights,” McKee stated of Kim, including: “He is grown into an actual chief on progressive points.”

Like many elected officers in New York, Kim has shifted left, which some view as opportunistic however which he has attributed to his political evolution. In 2018, he notably joined the flank of progressive led by Ocasio-Cortez to oppose the event deal that might have introduced Amazon to Lengthy Island Metropolis. He has additionally fought to decriminalize intercourse work in New York Metropolis, a difficulty that dovetails along with his help of the defund the police motion.

In 2015, Kim got here below scrutiny in a NY Occasions story for seemingly retracting his help for a legislation defending nail salon employees from wage fraud. The Occasions cited donations from nail salon homeowners as the explanation for his change of coronary heart, an allegation that Cuomo raised within the wake of his latest dispute with Kim. On the time, Kim vigorously disputed the story, saying he was objecting to sure emergency rules written by the governor’s workplace aside from the legislation that required salon homeowners to buy particular wage bonds.

Thus far, his forays into citywide politics haven’t been profitable.

His very first campaigning expertise got here in 2009, when he tried working for the Metropolis Council seat of his former mentor John Liu. He by no means made the poll. “It was one of the excruciating issues I ever went by,” he informed Gothamist this week in an interview.

In 2019, he ran in a really crowded race for public advocate that was in the end gained by Jumaane Williams.

The defeat didn’t cease him from asserting himself within the mayor’s race. By means of his endorsement of Andrew Yang, Kim has positioned himself as an elected official with potential affect on metropolis politics ought to Yang win.

Sheinkopf stated Kim may attempt to forge a coalition amongst younger progressive voters, together with Asian People who’re turning into a rising political pressure in New York Metropolis.

Nevertheless, Kim, who’s the primary Korean American to be elected to the state legislature, is cautious of identification politics.

“It is simple to point out up and use my identification and maintain the established order,” he stated. “It is a lot more durable to say that there’s something basically damaged concerning the financial system.”

Kim was noncommittal about his political aspirations. He and his spouse, Alison Tan, who unsuccessfully ran for Metropolis Council in 2017, have three younger daughters. “It’ll rely upon the place we’re as a household,” he stated.

In some ways, Kim has been primed for the political stage greater than most. Politics has been his solely profession.

“Ron is by no stretch a no person from Flushing,” stated Liu. Kim arrived at Liu’s Metropolis Council workplace as a university scholar, not in pursuit of a job however with an inventory of complaints he had collected from the group. Liu determined to present him an internship.

The unflagging immigrant work ethic, each its promise and its futility, is a reoccurring theme in Kim’s biography. He emigrated to Flushing on the age of seven from South Korea. His household was sponsored by an uncle named Son Kim who had made his approach by dental faculty however for lack of job alternatives wound up becoming a member of the U.S. Military. He finally rose to the rank of captain and alongside the best way turned a staunch Republican. In what now looks as if a progressive joke, Ron, an solely baby, was named after Ronald Reagan.

Kim’s father was an engineer by coaching however he determined he would go into the grocery retailer enterprise, a well-trodden path for Korean immigrants. The household’s first retailer was on 72nd Avenue and York Avenue in Manhattan.

“That’s the place I grew up,” Kim recalled. His mother and father labored nonstop, he stated. He slept within the automobile, whereas they drove to and from Queens, and to Hunts Level to purchase produce.

When he was within the sixth grade, somebody recommended to his mother and father that it could higher to maneuver to Riverdale, an prosperous Bronx neighborhood lined with stately properties and good faculties. Quickly after he began public faculty, a tutor recommended that Ron take a check to get into one of many non-public faculties within the space.

He received accepted into Riverdale Nation College, the place the tutoring was within the tens of hundreds of {dollars}. However his father, who by then had opened a second grocery retailer in Spanish Harlem, made a dedication to this son that he would pay for the whole lot up till faculty.

They gained entry into an unique membership, with no understanding of the breaks afforded for households like theirs. “We did not even know there was monetary support,” Kim stated. On events once they have been late on their funds, his father would ship him to the college with an envelope filled with money.

His household scrimped and saved, subsisting on ramen at occasions, he stated. Whereas lots of his classmates had properties on Park Avenue and the Hamptons, he lived in a small one-bedroom condo. All through his time at Riverdale, Kim by no means invited a single good friend to his house. In hindsight, he stated, “I don’t assume any faculty was price that a lot.”

After he graduated from Hamilton School, which he attended on a full scholarship, he accepted a job for $24,000 a 12 months as a group liaison for State Assemblyman Mark Weprin. He labored 70 hours every week; he attended each group assembly and received to know the stakeholders, choice makers, and the way insurance policies are made. It was authorities 101.

“The second you ship outcomes, it’s one of the gratifying moments,” he stated “It’s the feeling that may by no means be replicated in any type of finance or non-public sector job.”

Like lots of the immigrants he represents, Kim owes his foothold within the nation to the member of the family who got here earlier than him. In April, Kim’s uncle Son died in a Queens nursing house. The suspected trigger was COVID.

Kim turned one of many earliest to lift issues concerning the state’s nursing house coverage, which allowed services to readmit sufferers that have been despatched to hospitals with coronavirus. He and others have argued that the choice paved the best way for outbreaks in nursing properties. Cuomo and his well being commissioner have maintained the infections have been introduced in by employees members.

After every week of press interviews and tv appearances, Kim appeared weary. On Monday, he sensed that members of his get together needed to maneuver on reasonably than pursue a confrontation with the governor. Throughout a Zoom convention, two lawmakers accused him of being the bully reasonably than Cuomo, he stated. He logged off after that.

He insisted he isn’t all for pursuing a “takedown of Cuomo.” Somewhat, he desires to proceed shedding mild on the state’s nursing house fatalities, which now stands at greater than 15,000. He stated his focus has at all times been on the impacted households.

“I’m not going to have this platform endlessly,” he stated. “And I plan on seizing it to present voice to those individuals.”

UPDATE: The unique model of the story said that Kim stated he didn’t plan to run for one more time period within the Meeting. He has since stated he didn’t intend to recommend that.