Many Korean Americans, especially the politically active, still resent a 2011 redistricting that split the geographically sprawling Korean community among council districts. The community was divided among non-Asian American candidates who fancied campaign contributions from Koreatown's banks, stores, clubs, restaurants and other prosperous businesses.
L.A. is well known for short memories, especially when it comes to an esoteric subject such as redrawing city council district lines. But among some Korean Americans the hard feelings remain and will be a force when the council engages in another once-a-decade reapportionment in 2021. Their memories go back a long way to the 1992 riot when business people and residents felt the city was too slow in protecting Koreatown from assault.
"We have to step up," City Councilman David Ryu told the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum at the Palm downtown Friday noon. "It's about equity. It's about opportunity." He spoke of "helping all those families get the opportunities I got."
Ryu beat city hall when he first ran for the city council in 2015 and defeated a candidate backed by the powerful council president, Herb Wesson. Wesson then welcomed the newcomer onto his team and rewarded him with speedy approval of street repair and other projects valuable to Ryu's constituents.
But getting there wasn't easy. His Fourth District, reaching from Sherman Oaks through Griffith Park to the Miracle Mile, is 80 per cent Caucasian.
In introducing Ryu to the Current Affairs Forum luncheon, Sergio Rascon, business manager of Laborers' Local 300, told a revealing story of how the councilman succeeded. In the primary election Ryu had asked Rascon for the endorsement of Local 300, a largely Latino labor union which wields considerable power with its endorsements and its grassroots workers. Rascon told him the local was endorsing someone else in the primary. When Ryu got into the runoff, he asked Rascon again. The union leader invited him to speak to the members. What should I say? asked Ryu. Tell them your story, replied Rascon.
His story resonated with the members, immigrants or children of immigrants who have come up the hard way. Ryu came to the United States with his family at the age of five. They were on food stamps and the family of six lived in a two-bedroom 700 square foot apartment. The union members had known that kind of life. They endorsed Ryu and played a major part in his victory.
For now Ryu is immersed in the many projects of his diverse district. But when the maneuvering over redistricting begins in 2021, expect Ryu to step up, as promised.