By Nathan Duke
Queens Democratic Party insiders said Kevin Kim’s win over his five opponents in the Sept. 15 primary stemmed from the candidate’s ability to not only galvanize his base but also to draw voters from across the district.
Kim, U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman’s (D-Bayside) deputy director of community affairs, defeated Democrats Jerry Iannece, Paul Vallone, Steve Behar, Tom Cooke and Debra Markell in the primary to replace Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), winning 30 percent of the vote.
If he defeats Republican challenger Dan Halloran in the Nov. 3 election, Kim would become the first Korean American on the Council.
“He had a motivated base and an important endorsement from Gary Ackerman,” said Evan Stavisky, a Democratic district leader. “This allowed him to bridge across ethnic lines. Kevin ran a great campaign and attracted a lot of support from different corners of the district.”
Chuck Apelian, Community Board 7’s vice chairman who also acted as Vallone’s campaign manager, said it was widely believed the race would be a tough battle between his candidate and Iannece, Community Board 11’s chairman.
“There was a low turnout,” Apelian said. “We don’t know whether it was voter apathy. The two Italians split the vote evenly. We thought it would be between Vallone and Iannece.”
But Apelian said Kim’s campaign ran a smooth operation on Primary Day.He had raised the most money in the race with about 80 percent of his contributions coming from outside the district, which covers Bayside, Little Neck, Douglaston, College Point, Malba, Whitestone and East Flushing.
“They were very organized,” he said. “I don’t think Kim was ever discounted. He’s formidable and articulate. He had a very strong poll vote.”
The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s exit polls conducted on Primary Day found Kim drew the support of 98 percent of Asian-American voters in District 19.
The group found similarly strong turnout for other Asian-American candidates from Queens. Although overall voter turnout was low, Asian-American turnout was 17 percent to 18 percent higher than in a typical election, AALDEF found.
Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) received 84 percent of the Asian-American vote in his bid for city comptroller, while businesswoman Yen Chou, who won the District 20 primary in Flushing, took 32 percent of the Asian-American vote. S.J. Jung received 41 percent of the Asian-American vote in that race, but Chou ended up winning the Democratic nomination.
Queens Civic Congress President Corey Bearak said he had heard speculation earlier in the summer that Kim could take the nomination in the District 19 race if Vallone and Iannece split the vote.
“I had been told that Kevin might surprise people,” he said.
According to city Campaign Finance Board records, Kim’s campaign has raised a total $288,756, of which an estimated 80 percent came from outside the district.
Kim raised more than $56,000 within District 19 as well as a total $143,767 from Queens neighborhoods outside the district, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island, Long Island and parts of upstate New York.
He also received $35,733 in contributions from California, $31,890 from New Jersey, $5,500 from China and $1,000 from South Korea. A total of $14,736 came from 13 other states, including Connecticut, Hawaii and Virginia.
Contributors include attorneys, the publisher of the Korean American Times, the state Korean War Veterans Association, the former owner of Manhattan video store Kim’s Video, bank employees, nonprofits run by Korean churches, an employee for the state of California’s controller’s office and business owners.
Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.