Politicians testify, by their words and enthusiastic attendance, to Korean-American growth

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Korean Night Gala 2012. (Dan Rosenblum)
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During the annual Korean Night Gala on Friday night, 600 Korean-American business and community leaders joined Korean War veterans and mayoral candidates—announced and unannounced—for a $300-per-seat dinner at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square.

As the night began, guests filtered into the hotel’s fifth-floor ballroom for a cocktail reception. A D.J. played Miles Davis and Randy Newman while teams of event photographers and reporters from Korea-based television networks KNN and MKTV worked near the doorway.

This year’s gala, hosted by the Korean American Association of Greater New York, celebrated both Korean American Day and last October’s ratification of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. Among the elected officials who attended were Representative Charlie Rangel, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Comptroller John Liu.

Stringer and Queens-based assembly members Rory Lancman and Edward Braunstein gave some brief remarks to a group of 30 people, mostly photographers. They fought the ambient noise as the rest of the room made small talk.

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Stringer thanked the room for their support and said as an “honorary Korean” he wanted to celebrate New York City’s growing Korean population.

Annyeong haseyo,” Stringer said. “What do you think?”

Lancman told the crowd he was happy to see the trade treaty.

“Hopefully that will bring our countries even closer together,” he said.

Stringer left part way through the event, but Lancman, who represents parts of Flushing, hung around. While standing in the crowd, he said it was important to attend the city’s biggest Korean-American event of the year.

“You really want to be here and pay your respects and also to meet people and make sure that I know who’s who and ‘who’s who’ knows who I am,” Lancman said.

The association’s bow-tied president, Chang Y. Han, greeted guests. He said he was most looking forward to a Korean jazz performance scheduled for later in the night.

“It’s pretty expensive, but it’s worth it,” Han said. “I hope everybody can enjoy it.”

As the attendees filed upstairs for the dinner, a representative of perhaps New York’s least-known mayoral candidate, Gin Lee, handed out business cards.

Photographers and admirers of Rangel approached both sides of his table, and he seemed more than happy to engage with them, frequently getting up to shake hands, bow and exchange business cards. Other guests at Rangel’s table were Han, Lancman, Liu and former California congressman Jay Kim, who in 1998 pleaded guilty to accepting illegal campaign donations.

Liu, who was born in Taiwan, touched on the successes Korean-Americans and immigrants achieved in the New York area.

“This is a place that we have made very special,” he said. “And as the first generation of Korean-Americans came and worked so hard, 15-16 hours a day, seven days a week, their kids often working alongside them [as] grocers, dry cleaners. Now we have generations alongside them who are occupying the offices of the top law firms, investment banks, top surgeons at hospitals in this area. The Korean-American community has come a really, really long way.”

Rangel, who spoke for ten minutes, stayed on stage the longest. He read a letter he said President Obama asked him to share which spoke of the common political and economic bonds between Korea and the United States.

Rangel, who was injured while fighting in the Korean War, also saluted a group of Korean veterans of that conflict who sat at a long table in the hall.

“Now we can all say we may not have truly understood our mission, but we were there,” Rangel said. “But seeing the great prosperity, seeing the growth of the economy, the strengthening of democracy, and seeing that those of us who see Pyongyang and other who’ve seen Seoul, we know we were on the right side. Democracy always wins.”

“Nobody has proven how valuable immigration is more than the Korean people,” Rangel said. “You have brought to this country much more than we’re able to give back, but together join me to make certain that we take advantage of our diversity, our friendship and our partnership to get the rest of America to understand that as Americans we have more in common than that what separates us.”

“And I love when democracy and trade and trade and economic growth far exceeds the evilness of people who just want to terrorize. And so, my fellow Americans and my partners, I think you for the love and affection and support that you’ve given me. And I want you to know that no matter what happens in redistricting, you’re never gonna get rid of Charlie Rangel as being your friend.”

Rangel slowly danced off the stage, as “New York, New York” filled the Marquis’ Broadway Ballroom.