Newcomer to the Council race says fresh approach is needed


By Josh Rogers

PJ Kim showed up for an interview last week with a big knapsack on his back looking like he’d fit in better on a grad school campus than at a City Council candidate forum. He said he didn’t expect to get any political club endorsements, and this sounded less like false modesty than a realistic self-assessment by a young, relatively unknown candidate.

But that evening, he earned the endorsement of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club in the First District City Council Democratic primary. Alan Roskoff, the leader of the gay club, said Kim had no support at the beginning of the meeting but won the group over with his intelligence.

“I don’t think anyone in the room had ever spoken to him before,” Roskoff said.

Still Jim Owles is smaller than other gay clubs and may not be that influential in the district. Kim, who looks younger than his 30 years, said last week that as a political newcomer and the last entrant into the race, the clubs will not be helpful.

“I’m not counting on the traditional levers of political power to get me where I need to be,” he said in an interview.

He has got off to a fast fundraising start, leapfrogging all but one of his opponents with over $70,000. Kim said he has reached out to friends and colleagues around the country for donations, but he hopes to raise more money in the district as the campaign proceeds.

Kim has two masters degrees from Harvard (in business and public administration) and an undergraduate degree from Princeton, and friends and foes alike routinely cite his intelligence as his greatest strength.

Before Harvard, he was a business analyst at the McKinsey & Company consulting firm from 2001 to 2003. After grad school, he was the director of FoodChange’s tax support program from 2006 to 2007, providing the poor with free tax services, allowing them to collect Earned Income Tax Credits. Most recently, he has worked for Single Stop USA, overseeing anti-poverty programs in California, New Mexico and New Jersey.

He said a councilmember has to go beyond the powers of the office to work with businesses, non-profits and others to look for solutions in the neighborhoods — something he doesn’t think Councilmember Alan Gerson has done well.

“There’s a need for new energy, new ideas and a new approach to problem solving,” he said “There’s some candidates in this race that have been running for a really long time, and Alan has served honorably but he’s been a professional politician for many years.”

Kim, was appointed to Community Board 1 in 2007, when he was working in Lower Manhattan. He did not move into the Financial District until a year ago. By his own admission, he did not speak up much his first year on the board and he did not attend many meetings his second year, which is why he was not reappointed in 2009.

He said in his first year, he wanted to learn about how the board worked before inserting himself into the debate. Then he got the job with Single Stop, which made it hard to attend most meetings because he was traveling around the country.

He said if elected, “I’ll work 24-7,” because “it’ll be the only thing on my plate.” He said he has always given full effort to every job he has had, but it was hard to fulfill the time commitments of the volunteer board position when he had to travel.

He has not decided whom he will vote for mayor in November, but Kim could be the only candidate who could support Mayor Bloomberg.

“I think he’s done a good job,” Kim said. “I think a couple of things process-wise he could have handled better.”

He praised Bloomberg for trying new anti-poverty programs and other innovations. But he said the mayor should have planned sooner for the school crowding crunch in Lower Manhattan, should have put the term limit extension to a voter referendum, and his Dept. of Transportation has not had good relations with the Downtown community on issues such as the Grand St. bike lane.

The First District does have poor residents, particularly in Chinatown and the Lower East Side, but it also has some of the city’s wealthiest in neighborhoods like Battery Park City and Tribeca.

He said he will fight for the bread and butter issues in richer neighborhoods like parks, schools and quality of life, but he thinks people in all neighborhoods, inspired by Obama’s win, are looking to help those most in need.

“There’s also a different sensibility of not only caring just about their narrow self interest, but I think they also have a larger vision of social justice in a way that didn’t exist before,” he said.

Kim was born in South Korea and came to the U.S. at age 6, with his parents. He lived in Baton Rouge, La. and then Memphis while his parents attended grad schools.

His given name is Jin. In Korea, older kids gave him the nickname “PJ,” and he adopted it as his name when he came to this country because it was easier for people to pronounce. He is leaning toward using the name Jin “PJ” Kim for the ballot, but said at this point in his career, he won’t be hurt by whatever he chooses.

“I’m not that well known,” he said. “Either way it doesn’t matter.”