Two Koreans Running For Office in Virginia in 2003
By Jackie Bong Wright
Young Duek Ahn, Candidate for Supervisor of Mason District
With one hand in a fist and the other holding file folders, Young Duek Ahn presents himself as a fighter and manager. “I’ll fight for the rights of Mason District residents to be better served,” Ahn claimed. “I’ll find ways to increase revenues, lower real estate taxes and provide more services for people who need them, especially seniors. Fairfax County has a fat budget of $2.5 billion and employs 11,000 civil servants that serve a population of over a million.
“This year, the nine supervisors on the board boasted they had a surplus of $39 million. I want to sit on that body and make the right decisions — more schools for the ever increasing number of school-aged children, improved teacher quality, and more school resources. I want to build more roads and provide more public transportation to end the terrible traffic jams we encounter right now. I want to increase support for the police and fire departments.” These were the changes Mr. Ahn said he would make if he were elected Mason District Supervisor.
As a Marine, Ahn said he had wandered in the jungles and swamps of Vietnam and survived many battles. He feared no obstacle, he exclaimed. He had come to America in 1974 at the age of 29 after graduating from university in Korea. He joined the U.S army and enlisted in the infantry. After his discharge, he became a successful businessman in New York, then a land developer in Ohio. He moved to Virginia to work in real estate two years ago to the area where most Koreans live and do business. He wanted to fulfill a longstanding ambition to enter politics. According to the 2000 Census, 28,000 Koreans reside in Fairfax County out of the Washington area’s 66,000.
“ I am a self-made man and did not rely on anyone but myself to build my life and my resources. I don’t hold a high degree in education, nor have I had financial support from parties, businesses, or organizations. As an independent candidate, I have been going door to door, gas station to gas station, and store to store to campaign and talk to people. I am a man walking the streets who understands the needs of average people, and I reach out to all residents, not only Koreans. I’ll work hard and sacrifice my time and my life to serve the whole Mason District community. I mostly use my own money to fund my campaign. I moved a few months ago to Mason District from Ashburn in Loundon County, where my wife and two sons still live. I am renting an apartment that also serves as my office in the Culmore area, near Baileys Crossroads.”
Last month, Ahn put up 20 large signs of himself in green fatigues. Although his signs complied with zoning rules, he said, nine of them were torn down. A bigger challenge is that he is a newcomer to Fairfax County, and, without roots or political experience, faces tough opposition from two-term incumbent Penny Gross (D) and civic activist Herschel “Buzz” Hawley Jr. (R), both candidates in the upcoming November elections.
Ilryong Moon Running for School Board-At-Large
Another Korean candidate, running for office for a third time, is Ilryong Moon, the first Asian member of the Fairfax County School Board in Braddock District (1996 to 1999). He lost out for a second term in 2000. Changing strategies, he is running this time for At-Large membership on the Board.
Moon is soft-spoken and low-key at his public appearances, but his many activities speak loudly. He holds key positions as an At-Large Commissioner on the Fairfax County Planning Commission (from 2000); Vice President of a local Rotary Club; treasurer of the American Philharmonic Youth Orchestras; member of the Community Service Fund, Fairfax-Falls Church Region, United Way; and member of Congregational Health Partnership Advisory Committee, Inova Health System. “It’s true that I am not a great orator. I prefer to accomplish the tasks that have been entrusted to me, rather than talking a lot and making empty promises. On the other hand, I can be the loudest parent when it comes to cheering at my two boys’ soccer and basket ball games.”
A cum laude graduate of Harvard in business law, Moon for the past 20 years has served mostly Korean clients in the Annandale area, where their businesses have been prospering. Most Koreans are Christian, and churches mushroom wherever they go, especially in Virginia. They patronize three daily Korean newspapers, three radio stations and three TV channels in the region. Most support Moon, who says proudly that he has received more financial contributions than his opponent.
“I cannot accept the notion as a Korean or Asian that I am limited, or think that I have reached my glass ceiling. As an American, I have to strive for more and to improve the quality of life in my new country. I have decided to run again because I believe in the work ethic and in public service. I believe in a strong school system, and want to maintain excellence in education in Fairfax County. Although the county enjoys the best reputation as a model of education in the whole country, I want more,” Moon said emphatically.
“ What can a teenager do,” he continued, “if he or she doesn’t pass the Standard of Learning Test (ESOL) and doesn’t graduate from high school? The best students are the best citizens. With the “No Child Left Behind” policy, I want every student to pass the ESOL test and pursue higher education. As Fairfax has the most diverse student body and an increasing population, I want to hire more bi-lingual staff and teachers. I want to get more resources to raise the standard of teachers’ training and pay them better. I want to build more schools and decrease class size from 25 to 15. Class sizes are a factor in success and a key to reducing disparity.”
Moon has a final wish. “ I urge every single Asian to register and come out to vote. The Asian vote is lower than average because Asians think that their votes don’t make any difference. They also think that national elections for the President and the Congress are more important than the local ones. It’s not true! If you care about your everyday life, the education of your children, the state of the roads you drive, the water you drink, the health and housing services, the taxes you pay, you must exercise your right to voice your opinion and cast your vote. You have to speak up. Local governments make policy and decisions for you if you don’t do it for yourself.”