By Sarah Yee
Northwest Asian Weekly
In 1995, Washington state elected the first and only Chinese American governor in U.S. history. Sixteen years later, Michael Park hopes to set another record in Asian American history.
“It was February 1976,” Park reminisced, speaking about his first sight of America. “It was night, and raining a little bit. I didn’t even dream that I would become an elected official somewhere in the United States.”
This year, Park is running for the Federal Way mayor position in the city’s first election for a full-time mayor. If elected, Park would be the first Asian American in Washington state to have served three terms as a mayor. He was appointed and served as Federal Way’s mayor in 2000 and 2006.
Public safety is a top concern on Park’s agenda. He wants to do his best to keep Federal Way as the second safest city in King County, if not better.
“Under his leadership, Federal Way’s police department became nationally accredited,” said Denise Yun, Park’s campaign manager. “There are 30,000 different police agencies nationally. Only the top 3 percent are nationally accredited and certified. It means that they have to have more education or meet a higher standard.”
When the city of Federal Way formed its police department in 1996, Park was there in the beginning as the chair of the Public Safety Committee.
“At that time, I talked with our police chief. Because [Federal Way] is a very diversified community, we have to have bilingual police officers. Right now, our police department is able to speak eight to nine different languages. Actually, I recruited the state of Washington’s first Korean American female officer,” said Park. “I am very proud of what I have done so far.”
In this time of economic turmoil, Park remains focused on creating jobs for the city. He knows what it is like to struggle with “no money, no job, no English [speaking skills].”
When he came to the United States at the age of 29, he began working as a flower delivery person in Los Angeles at the minimum wage of $2 an hour.
This experience gave Park significant realizations that would lead him to the American dream and to becoming socially responsible.
“When I knocked on the apartment doors [to deliver flowers], the seniors were just trying to chat with me. They were very lonely. They said, ‘I never see my sons and daughters,’ ” Park said, recalling Mother’s Day weekend in 1976.
“I was kind of shocked. I was making two bucks, but I was also trying to help my parents. They sacrificed for me,” Park expressed. “In the United States, in my sense, family is the core of this nation. But the core is not functioning well. I found out, at that moment, ‘Oh, this is a country for the young.’ ”
Park has always made giving back his philosophy for his family and community.
“You know, I have received a great deal from the United States,” said Park.
When Park attended Seattle Central Community College in 1976, the federal government paid for his tuition with a comprehensive employment training act at the time.
Over the years, Park recalls the importance of education. He made huge efforts to give back by serving in the Federal Way School District and Highline Community College Board of Directors.
“In this [mayor] election, I am trying to send a message, particularly to the Asian American youngsters,” Park said. “If I could do this, you could do a lot better than me. You don’t have any limits. I always chat with my colleagues. Those bright Asian kids — teenagers and those in their early 20s — they work hard and they are very bright. Twenty years later, they are going to be a major human resource leading this country. [I am running for this office] to set the tone and prepare the stage.”
The city of Federal Way has a population of 88,700, with an estimated 11 percent being Korean Americans.
Park wants to empower the Asian American community.
He emphasized, “It’s not about electing ‘Michael Park’ as a mayor. It’s important that Asian Americans participate in the election process. If you pay the taxes, you have to exercise the ownership.”
Linda Kochmar is the current mayor of Federal Way and a candidate for this upcoming election She said, “Mike is a good person. He tries very hard.”
Kochmar added, “There are a lot of minorities in this city. We need to be inclusive.” ♦
For more information about Michael Park, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Yee can be reached at email@example.com.