Choi and O'Toole Stand Tall
Governor Chris Christie made a shrewd move recently when he appointed a Korean American on the state Supreme Court. This could be brilliant positioning for 2016; the Korean-American community is growing in both affluence and political clout. Christie's nominee, federal prosecutor Phil Kwon, ran into trouble when The Star Ledger reported Sunday that a business owned by Kwon's mother paid $160,000 to settle a civil complaint over more than $2 million that was deposited into a bank account in increments of slightly less than $10,000. A pattern of deposits like that is known as structuring and is often used by criminals to launder money. No charges were filed in the case. The Fort Lee Patch got the passion and the politics. Here's their report- "Korean Americans jumped to Kwon's defense. The Korean American Voters Council, former Edison Mayor Jun Choi, and state Sen. Kevin O'Toole, (R-40), Cedar Grove, spearheaded a nonpartisan coalition to extol the first Asian American nominee to the high court. "It's unfortunate that the media, before knowing Phil Kwon, assumed certain things," Choi said. The group planned to roll out a support campaign for Kwon's nomination, but as Choi said, "We accelerated the pace of this after some of the, what we think are, inappropriate, speculative attacks on the Kwon family." Palisades Park Deputy Mayor Jason Kim said he and Councilman Jong Chul Lee of Palisades Park - which is 44 percent Korean-American - had the same memorable experience once Gov. Chris Christie announced Kwon's nomination. Hearing the news, their children - his daughter in particular - were, Kim said, "so proud that a Korean was being nominated for the Supreme Court." Kim, a Democrat, also said, "It is a surprise that (Kwon's nomination) came from our governor," given that diversity is a political attribute generally tied to the left, not the right. As Choi said, "This is a significant milestone for all New Jerseyans,"and a monumental breakthrough for all Asian Americans. "We are unified as a community," he said, reminding the crowd of Kwon's high-profile criminal prosecutions like Newark state Sen. Sharpe James and Hudson County Executive Bob Janiszewski. Introducing O'Toole, he called the Essex County lawmaker "my Korean half-brother who happened to join the wrong party." O'Toole was the only Republican official in the room representing the Republican governor and his candidate, and after the two jabs at his party affiliation, O'Toole had to set the record straight. "I just have to take issue," he said, with the idea that "Democrats are the party of diversity." He reminded the crowd that the first female and first African-American justices on the N.J. Supreme Court were GOP nominations, and a Republican governor also appointed the first female Chief Justice. O'Toole's mother was a North Korean war refugee who fell in love with his enlisted Irish-American father before settling in Essex. They faced some ugly racist sentiments early on for their mixed marriage; in one incident a new landlord ripped up their lease once he met O'Toole's mother. But the family pressed on to raise seven children. Given that history, the senator gave Kwon his full-throated backing. "I am so proud to be here today to wholeheartedly support Phil Kwon. For the politicians who have "prejudged," he said, "They don't know the man, they don't know the candidate...He stands head and shoulders above other nominees that have come before us." "Put down the fiery rhetoric and hyperbole," he said to the Kwon critics, and review Kwon's qualifications: Georgetown, Rutgers, clerk to a federal judge, decade in the U.S. Attorney's Office, ending as second-in-command with 7,000 employees working for him. "There's not a single senator who would have the nerve to put a red light up," O'Toole said. "Roll up your sleeves, do your homework, find out what the facts are, talk to the candidate." O'Toole, one of the ranking Korean-American elected officials in the country, has been speculated about as a candidate for Lt. Governor in 2013 or the US Senate.