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Koreatown celebrates election of David Ryu to L.A. City Council seat

Koreatown celebrates the election of the first Korean American to the L.A. City Council

The southeastern part of Councilman-elect David Ryu's district curves right around Koreatown, a community that is celebrating the Korean American's election Tuesday to the Los Angeles City Council

Unofficial results show Ryu won the precincts abutting Koreatown, on Western Avenue and in the mid-Wilshire area, by large margins, a Times analysis found. He is the first Korean American and only the second Asian American to be elected to the council. 

And that had Koreatown celebrating Wednesday. 

Young Sook Song, 54, clinked her coffee cup with a colleague in honor of Ryu's victory.

"Finally, a Korean person has a foot in the door," said Song, who runs a cosmetics shop in Koreatown and lives in Silver Lake. "It feels like someone from my family was elected."

Song said her husband was glued to the television Tuesday night watching election results, and was overjoyed when a breaking news scroll declared Ryu the winner.

Selling chives and other produce out of the back of a van in a Koreatown strip mall, 76-year-old‎ Si Yang Kim said he felt he could puff up his chest Wednesday and feel a little more proud to be Korean.

"It gives us power," said Kim, who arrived in Los Angeles penniless ‎in 1986. "It will be a little easier for the next generation."

‎Kim recounted how he and his wife started out by peddling socks on the streets of South Los Angeles, and how helpless they felt when a man tried to steal their wares and knocked his wife to the ground. A police officer, seeing that she was conscious, moved right along.

"I have sons and daughters, and they‎ have sons and daughters. It'll be better for them," he said.

Jeong Hee Kim, 60, said she and her husband called the city to find out whether they'd be able to cast a vote for Ryu, but were disappointed when they were told their Koreatown apartment fell outside the district.

"I hope there's a long, wide path ahead of him," she said, brushing glue onto soles in a Koreatown parking lot shoe stall.‎ "He could go on to become a U.S. senator, a congressman. He's young." Ryu is 39.

Under an old-fashioned sewing machine in the stall, a Korean-language newspaper declared across the top of the page: "David Ryu did it."

Jenny Shin, 49, glanced at a Korean paper with the headline, "It's a miracle," from behind the register of her health food store and clapped her hands, exclaiming: "This is so great!"

Shin said she believed Ryu would work not only for the Korean community, but for all immigrants struggling to make ends meet.

"He seems to know what immigrants are hoping for," said Shin, who said she saw Ryu when he came to visit her church. "There were so many people rooting for him."

Shin, who immigrated to the United States 15 years‎ ago, said the Korean community had long felt stagnant and she said she wished Ryu's election would inject new energy.

Alex Ko, 55, said he saw Korean small business ‎owners like him struggle with nowhere to turn when they had problems.

"We were neglected without a voice, without an outlet," said Ko, who said he stood guard at Koreatown Plaza with a gun during the [1992] riots. ‎"We used to have no status."

Ko, a one-time Taekwondo coach who now runs a luggage store in Koreatown, said he hoped Ryu would become a hardworking city councilman who is respected both inside and outside the Korean community.

"That way there will be a second, then a third, Korean councilman," he said.

Times staff writer Alice Walton contributed to this report

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