Steve S. Kim had been running a flower shop with his sister across the street from Los Angeles City Hall for a couple years when a customer who bought flowers every week for his wife off-handedly asked a life-changing question.
A year earlier, riots had torn through Los Angeles. The new mayor, Richard Riordan, was amassing a diverse staff. Did Kim have any interest in politics?
Kim, who was 25 at the time, figured: Politics? Why not?
The customer set up an...