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A Directly Elected Mayor

Posted November. 10, 2005 03:34,   


At 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday, 300 campaigners were intently listening to the vote count on the radio with sweat in their hands at the Democratic Party election headquarters in Edison, New Jersey.

It was a close election between Democrat Jun Choi (34, Korean name Choi Jun-hee) and Independent Bill Stephens.

At first, it was expected to be an easy victory for Choi because Edison has been a Democratic stronghold. However, white citizens who account for 60 percent of the city of 100,000 showed signs of being wary of an Asian mayor. This made the election outcome unpredictable. Asians, including Indians and Chinese, comprise about 35 percent of the population of the fifth largest city in New Jersey.

At 9:45 p.m., the headquarters roared with cheers and repeated chants of “Jun Choi, Jun Choi,…”

“The dry cleaner’s son” became the first directly elected Korean-American mayor in the mainland U.S. Choi defeated his contender by a mere 277 votes. It was a very close election.

Choi immigrated to the U.S. with his parents, who started a dry cleaner. His father Choi Sang-young, 65, a member of the 17th Class Korea Military Academy, and mother Hong Jung-ja, 62, raised Choi while running a dry cleaner since immigrating to the United States.

Shortly after his election, Choi called the names of all who helped his election campaign and thanked them. He saved his mother for last. “Where is my mom?” he said. When Hong went up to the podium, Choi hugged his mother and thanked her, saying, “My parents have sacrificed so much for me.”

Choi appealed for harmony, saying, “Being white or Asian is no longer important. I will be a mayor for all Edison citizens.” Choi, unmarried, will be the mayor of Edison for four years starting next January.

Choi sent shockwaves when he won the Democratic primary in June, defeating the current mayor who had been in the post for the past 12 years. Back then, a white radio commentator in New Jersey even made a discriminatory remark about the upcoming election, saying, “An Asian should not hold sway over U.S. politics.”

Choi is the second Korean-American to be elected mayor in the U.S. following Harry Kim, who was reelected as mayor of Big Island, Hawaii, last year, and the first to be directly elected as mayor in the mainland U.S.

Jong sik Kong kong@donga.com