By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
She works as the eyes and ears for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and likes engaging with people. Mayor Murray chose Hyeok Kim, to be one of the city’s two deputy mayors last December, calling her “an incredibly well-respected voice in our community and someone known near and far for her integrity.”
On becoming the first Asian American female to become Seattle’s external deputy mayor and break the glass ceiling, she said, “It wasn’t necessarily conscious. It wasn’t necessarily deliberate.” “In the year 2014, to have those kinds of firsts is maybe a reflection of how far we have yet to go,” she added. “I cannot help but also be very, very proud of the fact that Mayor Murray has entrusted me in a role like this, and really, it’s a wonderful example, not just as a Korean American, but also as an Asian American woman.”
Asian Americans outside of Seattle also celebrate her historic achievement. “We have had the mayor, the delegation visiting from Seattle’s sister city, Daejeon in Korea, come, as well as other foreign dignitaries come to visit through Seattle.”
They, too, expressed their support. “I can’t help, personally, being incredibly moved by that,” she said.
Eight months into her new job, she brings feedback from the city’s many diverse communities to Murray.
Diversity and opportunities “for younger leadership to step up” at the workplace are priorities shared by both executives.
“I’m really excited to be working in an environment like that because that’s an environment that will support, and I definitely feel that support from the mayor,” she said. “My interest is in doing the same for, in particular, young leaders of color.”
Whether it’s getting them to serve on various city boards and commissions or to get them involved in stakeholder meetings with the mayor or other elected officials, Kim said, “I think those are things that I am particularly mindful of, and I’m in a position, thankfully, to help develop those pathways.”
Along with her deputy mayoral duties, she has been a board member since last February of the Northwest Area Foundation, an organization dedicated to reducing poverty and achieving sustainable prosperity.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Kim immigrated to the United States at the age of 5.
She grew up in Federal Way and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1994. In 1998, she graduated from Hobart and William Smith Colleges (summa cum laude) in Geneva, N.Y. She also graduated Phi Beta Kappa and earned a Bachelor of Arts in history.
Kim got her start in politics in 1999 as a legislative assistant for Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-Seattle).
She said, “I feel like our predecessors, especially women leaders before us, have done huge, monumental things to break this glass ceiling. In some respects, I think that my generation has dealt with some of the less obvious challenges…pay discrimination…gender discrimination.”
Tomiko Santos continues to be one of the few Asian American women who are Kim’s mentors.
“Personal mentors helped develop me, helped develop my values, helped me improve my self-confidence and self-esteem,” Kim said about the key to her professional success. “I think those two interplays definitely contributed to where I am today.”
In May 2008, she became the executive director of InterIm Community Development Association – a nonprofit affordable housing and community development agency benefiting the Asian and Pacific Islander community.
The agency announced Andrea Akita as the new executive director last April.
“Before joining the (Murray) administration, having worked in the Chinatown-International District, there definitely was that sense of the right hand is not talking to the left hand,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s the neighborhood or it’s the individual or the families and the communities that are affected, that have to deal with that lack of coordination from entities like our city government.”
Engagement with and feedback from Seattle’s citizens, Kim says, is an important part of making positive changes in how city government runs. “I don’t think there’s ever a downside to that.”
“It is a really exciting city and community to be a part of,” said the deputy mayor about Seattle. “They (people and businesses) are moving here because they see that there are lots of really important ingredients for a vibrant, safe, creative, diverse, inclusive, and equitable city.” (end)
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.