By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
On the surface, Cindy Ryu is like most people.
She cares for her family. She gets up early to take her 15-year-old son to school and calls to check in with her two daughters who live in other states. She spends time on her computer checking her schedule and answering e-mails. And occasionally, she has date night with her husband, Cody.
Throw in an acupuncture or chiropractor appointment here and there, and it is easy to assume that Ryu leads the life of an average citizen.
But the 52-year-old Shoreline resident’s life is anything but average.
The former Shoreline mayor is working on taking her political career beyond city limits. Ryu is running for Washington state representative for the 32nd legislative district, position 1.
Her decision to run comes about six months after her defeat as the incumbent in the race for Shoreline City Council position 5 (the city’s mayor is elected from the seven council positions).
“I felt really bad and disappointed,” she said about the loss. “But I was comforted, at least, in the difference [in votes].”
Ryu lost by less than 200 votes.
She first became involved in politics when Shoreline city officials began planning a redevelopment project on a portion of Aurora Avenue North that would affect her and Cody’s insurance business. After attending many public meetings, Ryu realized that the only way to get her voice heard was to become an elected official.
In 2006, she became a city councilmember. Two years later, she was elected mayor of Shoreline and became the first Korean American female mayor in the United States.
Despite her recent loss, Ryu has not been discouraged. Having worked her way up in city government, she said state government was the next logical step.
“I’ve laid the foundation by working at the grassroots level,” she said.
If elected, Ryu would be making history for the second time by becoming the first Korean American female state legislator. She would be representing the cities of Shoreline, Lake Forest Park, and Kenmore, the King County side of Bothell, parts of Edmonds, and parts of unincorporated Snohomish and King Counties.
Building its organization since the beginning of May, Ryu said her campaign is still in its early stages.
However, she has already been endorsed by several organizations including the King County Democrats and the Washington State, King County, and Snohomish County labor councils. She also received the 32nd Legislative District Democrats’ nomination.
In addition to working on gaining endorsements, Ryu has also been focusing on Korean community outreach. This means speaking with the local Korean media, which is what Ryu did on one particular day in a series of back-to-back interviews.
Ryu’s first interview of the morning was with Dong Keun Lee, editor-in-chief of the Korea Daily in Seattle.
Lee has been at the newspaper for 25 years and has known Ryu for about 20 years. He is an enthusiastic supporter of Ryu’s and he would love to see her in office. As a Korean and Asian American, Lee said having somebody who represents him and his community at the state level would be significant.
“We are a minority,” he said. “So we want our own voice.”
He said it is important to have diversity among lawmakers — in the form of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds — to keep things balanced.
Although her Korean heritage is not the main focus of her campaign, Ryu said that her background would definitely help her in Olympia if she were elected.
“I bring with me 5,000 years of Korean culture and history,” she said. “My family has records of both male and female ancestors by name, dating back to 960 A.D. So my outlook is 1,000 years of sustainability in the environment, the built environment, and American [and Korean] culture going forward.”
After her interview with Lee, Ryu had to rush to her interview with Yang Joon Hwang at the Korea Times in Seattle, where she discussed the progress of her campaign and the issues she would have to tackle if elected.
Ryu knows the biggest challenge she will face is finding a way to continue to provide public services in the midst of trying economic times. She said making decisions concerning the state budget, especially if cuts are involved, will require looking at each item and department individually.
“We can’t just cut expenditures 10 percent across the board and say we’re whole,” Ryu said. “No, we won’t be whole.”
Another issue that is important to Ryu is protecting the environment. Using the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as an example, she explained how one thing could affect a community’s natural and economic environment as well as its citizens’ lives and health.
“We have to be very cautious,” she said. “We are all interconnected, so we have to take care.”
Hwang, managing editor of the Korea Times, has known Ryu for three years and believes that she possesses the qualities that would make her successful in dealing with these issues. She is patient, energetic, and hardworking, and she would do her best to fulfill the duties and responsibilities required of the position, he said.
“[As mayor], she did her best to help the small businesses along Aurora Avenue,” he said. “I believe she could do well if elected.”
After her interview with Hwang, Ryu had no time to spare on her way to her third and final interview for the day at Radio Hankook, a Korean radio station in Federal Way.
At that point, it was mid-afternoon and there was no time to stop for lunch. But though Ryu has long been a politician, she has been a mother even longer. She came prepared, packing granola bars as a snack.
With the way things are going, Ryu is going to have to pack a lot of granola bars with her, as she will be busy for the next few months. Although she is aware of the difficulties that lie ahead on the campaign trail, Ryu is happy with the progress that has been made, thanks to the support of her family and friends.
“We’re getting things done,” she said. “I’m really encouraged and thankful, and I’m really blessed.” ♦
Samantha Pak can be reached at email@example.com.