By Doug Porter
Meet Carol Kim. She lived in District 6 before deciding to run for City Council. Her idea of campaigning is spending 40 hours a week going door-to-door, meeting potential constituents. She’s the mother of two children; a professional whose work evaluating results for agencies could easily translate into public service as a watchdog for the public interest.
The race for city council in District 6 is an important contest for Democrats. A win by Kim gives the party an effective counterweight to the Chamber of Commerce alliance seeking domination over San Diego. The district’s voters are almost evenly divided between Democrats (33.6 percent), Republicans (31.7 percent) and Decline to State voters (29.5 percent).
The people who advocate for money as free speech for corporations; who oppose communities controlling their own destinies; and who champion an economic model making middle class taxpayers subsidize lower paid workers for highly profitable companies are lined up against Carol Kim.
Her best chance of winning this election is tied to voter turnout, a uphill battle for any non-Republican candidate in an off-year election. A small army of volunteers working out of Kim’s Kearny Mesa office are working seven days a week to improve the odds.
Her opponent, Chris Cate, moved into the district from Carlsbad and appears to have been carefully groomed for the position. References to his past affiliations with the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and the Lincoln Club have been airbrushed from the campaign. The office space he shares with Carl DeMaio no longer displays campaign signage for the city council race.
Cate’s idea of campaigning amounts to snarky press releases and quips crafted by people with a vested interest in maintaining the pay to play culture of San Diego. Oh, and if they can find a way to play on prejudices about women being inferior, so much the better.
A Long Way Up
City Beat’s Dave Rolland wrote a fine profile of Kim earlier in 2014, describing her origins:
Kim’s parents immigrated to the United States from South Korea in the mid-1970s, after her dad, the son of a low-income single mother from a small fishing village, graduated from college with a degree in chemical engineering and was offered a job in the Midwest. When he and his new bride arrived in Los Angeles with $350 to their names, he learned the job had fallen through. Kim’s mother, who came from a comfortable middle-class family, had been a supervising nurse in Korea, but her license didn’t translate to her new country. Suddenly, they were stuck in L.A. with no prospects.
Kim’s dad started his new life in the U.S. as a day laborer, her mom on the lowest rung at a nursing home. But, in her off time, Kim’s mother made baby pillows and blankets using remnants from a fabric store, which they’d sell at a swap meet. That eventually led to their own clothing retail store, which led to a clothing-manufacturing business and a comfortable life for Kim and her three younger siblings. Kim graduated from UCLA with an English degree, later earning a master’s in education, and went on to a career in teaching and social services.
Her parents’ determination rubbed off on Carol Kim. With an emergency teaching credential in hand she went straight from college to work in an elementary school in a poverty-stricken area of Los Angeles working with troubled youth. Kim also worked as the coordinator of a Fine Arts program and became the lead teacher of an after-school program for at-risk boys.
She’s also worked in HIV prevention programs, serving high-risk groups including active and recovering substance abusers and foster youth. Her work involved providing training for public health nurses, community service providers, and teacher candidates.
Kim went to work with WestEd, an education centered non-profit here in San Diego.Over the past seven years she’s been evaluating schools and working with districts to get funding for health, violence prevention and drug and alcohol awareness programs.
She caught the politics bug as a volunteer for the Obama campaign’s Organizing for America and moved on after the election, working on issues with Organizing for Action.
Her decision to run for city council was a family affair, she told me during a recent interview. Her husband, who she describes as a very private person, was especially supportive given the likely intrusions on the family’s privacy they were facing. Daughter Kate wanted to know what office she could run for someday.
That query from her daughter points to a larger significance of this contest– the growing influence of women in politics locally. Run Women Run, a political action committee with about 300 members that works to recruit, train and mentor candidates, endorsed Carol Kim last December. And a Kim victory in District 6 would give San Diego its first woman-majority city council.
But… Is She Tough Enough?
The obstacles facing women in society at large haven’t gone away for Carol Kim in the District 6 contest.
After weeks of press releases and snide comments from her opponent without a whisper as to their relevance to the contest, Kim’s campaign called out Chris Cate over documents raising questions about his residency and acceptance of a homeowner’s tax credit from the county for a residence outside D6.
Those questions turned out to be due to an error by County Assessor Ernest Dronenburg’s office (the same guy who bragged about his performance in the primary elections). Cate got same day service in requesting a letter to that effect, a veritable miracle.
Oh, you should have heard the whining from the very same chattering class that failed to challenge Cate’s political stunts. All of a sudden she was being a big meanie! How could she dare challenge his honesty? Why didn’t she apologize? It was pathetic.
And then, after the Kim campaign produced additional documentation showing yet another address in Cate’s past (that he’d failed to report), there was (and is) silence. …It’s those emotional women, y’know….
Kim told me she’s been taken aback by the number of (usually) well-meaning people who’ve questioned whether she was tough enough for this kind of political contest.
Those people are wrong. Perhaps it’s her slight appearance. Perhaps it’s the stereotype of the subservient Asian woman. Or perhaps it’s just plain old garden variety sexism and racism. These people must have never looked her in the eye. As Texas Blues signer Kim Wilson once said, she’s Tuff Enough.
Fast Forward to a La Jolla Fundraiser
The crowd gathered for a fundraiser at an estate in La Jolla Farms recently saw her fire and dedication in a big way. Rep. Susan Davis, no slouch in the campaign speech department, made the formal introduction of Carol Kim to polite applause. The food was good, the setting beautiful and the audience prepared to hear a near novice’s appeal for support.
(Or so I thought, having never heard Kim speak. Yup, I was making those sexist assumptions, also.)
What we got was a barnstormer of a progressive speech, making the connections between this contest and the larger issues facing our country.
She gets that what’s going on here is simply the local manifestation of the right’s fight for trickle-down economics. She gets that what’s given us gross income inequality we have in the US. She gets that these policies have the effect of making the rich richer and the middle class smaller.
I’m told she was the only candidate to get a standing ovation after her speech at the year’s Labor Day Breakfast.
Best of all, she understands how truly representing her constituents is important in day-today affairs.
“Let Kim Be Kim” is scrawled in big letters on a whiteboard in the inner sanctum of her campaign offices when we talked recently.
Her stands on the issues are pretty much what you’d expect from an Democratic candidate in San Diego. Pay-to-play insiders are bad. Safe, well-maintained neighborhoods are good. Expenditures need to be watched over. Small business needs an advocate to ensure they are given a fair chance to compete with the downtown special interests.
Kim dared to mention education on her campaign issues web page, only to be ridiculed by her opposition since San Diego schools are not under the direct control of the city council. It’s kind of strange that Republicans forgot how their candidates for mayor in recent elections have run on the same platform. Or that there are many areas where city government and the school district overlap, like the ability to jointly subsidize bus passes for low income students.
And then we got around to what’s actually going on in District 6. It’s a district divided by cars. Or more specifically the broad streets those cars travel on. Kim would like to see city efforts to make the area more bike friendly, the neighborhoods more self aware and the businesses more supportive of each other. Her path to achieving those aims involves fostering collaboration and relying on data in decision making.
The question of data led to a conversation about the sad state of the city’s technology. Kim thinks a dashboard to track progress and expenditures on city projects would be a good idea–once the clunkiness (PDFs? Really?) and opaqueness of the current system are tackled.
The re-districting of San Diego’s council districts following the 2010 census enhanced the possibility an Asian-American representing District 6. Both candidates fit that bill. One candidate (Kim) actually lived in the district during that census. The other one (Cate) was implanted by a well-oiled Republican/Chamber of Commerce/Lincoln Club political machine.
There are an unusually high number of undecided voters in D6 according to recent polling which showed Cate with a small lead over Kim. Those voters–if they go to the polls–will be the ones who decide this race for city council.
Carol Kim for City Council