Ron Kim ’02
Ron Kim ’02 still lives in the Flushing, Queens, neighborhood where his parents settled after they emigrated from Korea when he was 7. Now, Kim represents his community as a five-term New York state assemblyman who takes pride in being the only Korean American ever elected to that governing body.
A Hamilton government major, Kim’s first job in public service was working with a representative for Flushing on the New York City Council. He became a National Urban Fellow in 2004 and earned a master’s degree in public administration from Baruch College. A Democrat, Kim was first elected to the New York Legislature in 2012. Over the last year, he’s been in a regional and national spotlight: The pandemic hit especially hard in his district, and he’s been a vocal critic of how former Governor Andrew Cuomo handled the COVID-19 crisis in nursing homes.
A Slice of Soda
A few weeks after I immigrated to Queens, N.Y., from South Korea, I had my first slice of pizza on Roosevelt Ave. My grandmother, who had already been living stateside for over 10 years but still didn’t speak a word of English, took me to this Italian joint and yelled at the Italian man (in Korean), “Hey! Give me two slices and a Coke!” I took two bites and hated it. But that moment symbolized everything that is still awesome about Queens. Only here, an old Korean lady can find comfort walking into a restaurant, order in Korean, and a non-Korean can fully understand and make us feel welcome.
An Early Lesson
Right before I started high school, my parents filed for bankruptcy. They gave up everything in South Korea for me to have a better future, working endless hours in their small grocery store. This period left an indelible mark on my life and shaped my views on economic justice and political involvement. I spent most of my academic and professional career trying to connect the dots for people like my parents, immigrants and small business owners, who worked so hard but felt defeated by our broken system.
Up From Rock Bottom
At the end of my sophomore year at Hamilton, I was suspended for one year. I was struggling academically and found myself constantly in the middle of bar fights and getting into trouble. It was a wake-up call that changed me forever. I spent that year working three jobs, volunteering, and taking classes at City University of New York. During that year off, when I felt like I hit rock bottom, I found the resilience, grit, and determination that shaped the person I am today. Luckily, Hamilton gave me another chance and embraced me back on campus.
The Biggest Win
When I turned 30, I ran for New York City Council. It was a disastrous failure, and I didn’t even make the ballot. But soon after this loss, I met someone special, Alison Tan. As my life partner, as the mother of my three beautiful daughters, she later told me that she chose to be with me because I ran for public office and found me to be a decent man. In 2012, when I turned 33, I won my first election to the state legislature with Alison campaigning by my side every day.
I landed in the news after tackling a mugger attempting to rob a mother with her baby. In the aftermath, the media focused on how I stopped a crime. But the larger story was how my office spent months trying to understand the root causes behind the attack and the suspect’s experience with a mental health and substance abuse crisis. This incident shaped how I view criminal justice and how we must do a better job improving the social conditions that lead to violence in our communities.
Not in My District
I became the first New York lawmaker to denounce the proposed Amazon HQ2 expansion into Queens. The deal would have cost taxpayers $3+ billion and forfeited New York’s strong union-centric identity. The data supports my belief that corporate welfare does not create jobs, nor does it lead to resilient communities. Instead, investing in small businesses who have ties and roots in our communities leads to more positive, worker-centered, sustainable solutions.
Calling Out Cuomo
During the height of the pandemic, I spoke out against [now former] Governor Cuomo’s COVID mandate regarding nursing homes and long-term care facilities — policies I believe led to thousands of unnecessary deaths. Despite pressure from the top, I told the truth and paved the way to hold his administration accountable.