Emeryville resident Sam Kang among hotly contested Assembly District 15 Candidates

Published On May 30, 2014 | By Rob Arias | News & Commentary, Politics

The race for the seat vacated by termed-out Nancy Skinner is winding down. Amongst the eight candidates is five-year Emeryville “Christie Core” resident Sam Kang. Kang is one of five democratic party candidates vying for one of two slots that will represent the party in the November General Election. The 15th district includes North Oakland, Emeryville, Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito, and Richmond. A political novice, Kang has established himself as a hard-working campaigner and gotten attention by attending smaller, more intimate gatherings that the favored candidates have largely ignored. Kang said that he will focus on three core issues that he wants to address during his leadership: increasing access to health care, protecting our environment, and wealth creation for communities of color.

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Kang, as cliché as this sounds, is living “The American Dream.” An immigrant from Korea to Georgia of all places at the age of four, Kang’s family encountered deep discrimination in the south that crafted the fighting spirit he carries today. “It motivated me to be a civil rights organizer and consumer protection attorney”. Kang fought hard to achieve his version of the American Dream and wants to preserve this idea for others. “A chance to really payback what I got which was being given a chance to obtain the American Dream for communities that may have found that they were left out of the process”.

A former second degree black-belt amateur fighter, Kang is quick with a fighting Metaphor for his ambitions. “it’s not enough for the people of the 15th district to just anticipate someone who rolls up their sleeves, they need someone who knows how to take off their gloves, know how to throw a punch, and know how to win. That’s what I’d like to do.” Kang now wants to take his fighting spirit to the political arena.“I’ve been an advocate for all my life. That’s who I am.”

Kang obtained his law degree at USF choosing the school because of its “Social Justice Mission“. After Graduation, Kang began his career as a Coro fellow in NYC, then went on to work as a the General Counsel for the Non-profit Greenlining Institute. Greenlining’s mission was originally to help funnel financing to mostly minority dense areas that had historically been “redlined“, depriving them of loans that allowed them to prosper like other, more affluent neighborhoods. The organization has since broadened its mission to advocacy for social issues that impact economic opportunity. As the organization’s chief attorney, Kang provides Greenlining’s strategic direction and writes & sponsors State legislation.

Having achieved success in the private sector with pushing initiatives, he now want to take his fight to Sacramento. Kang contributed to the defeat of Prop 23, a 2010 initiative that sought to roll back environmental regulations that would have had a massive impact on communities like Richmond. Another piece of legislation he’s involved with getting on this years ballot is sponsoring an initiative to put controls on health insurance rates that is currently mostly unregulated (An unfortunate hole of the Affordable Care Act). The bill has been in the works for 5 years but has met stiff resistance from the Health Insurance carriers.

Kang planted roots in Emeryville five years ago after getting married to his wife Akiko. “It was central to the Bay Area with great transportation.” “It was a great place to live and a great place to work”. Kang alluded to the fact that parts of the district, like Emeryville, that don’t have political influence usually receive poor government services. When issues impact us directly like the dissolution of Redevelopment by Governor Brown in 2011, we need someone intimate with our own unique perspective. “Redevelopment was key to Emeryville being Emeryville today. When I get to Sacramento, this is going to be one of my top issues. How do we bring back some type of funds? Call it Redevelopment, call it something else that we can use to continue developing Emeryville but in a more sustainable and in a community-centric way. If you have someone elected who lives in Emeryville, [Redevelopment] would have been a top-priority issue to say ‘No! We need this!’. This is priority #1 for Emeryville. You’re not going to get that unless you have someone who is rooted to the community who understands and is impacted by this issue. That’s the benefit of electing an Emeryville resident to Sacramento”.

Win or lose on Tuesday, Kang has cherished his experiences with working with his student volunteers and interacting with the community. Kang likens his own campaign to the underdog spirit of our city. “We’re small, but we’re in the hub of it, we’re in the middle of everything and it’s a desirable place to be. That’s emblematic of the fighting spirit of this tiny little city of Emeryville.” “It’s been very gratifying”.

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Previously the 14th District, the boundaries of the 15th district were redrawn in 2012 with an epicenter around Berkeley. The district boasts an 8 to 1 Democrat to Republican ratio. Kang has an uphill battle as he’ll have to overcome the deeper pockets of candidates supported by connected, career politicians. Berkeley candidates have maintained a grip on the seat for the past 38 years. Current Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates held the seat for 20 years (1976-1996) followed by his chief of staff Dion Aroner, who held the seat until 2002. Bates’ wife, Loni Hancock took the helm after Aroner and was followed by Skinner, a Bates family friend and a former campaign coordinator for Hancock. It’s not surprising that favored candidate Elizabeth Echols, a Berkeley native, has the support and endorsement of Bates & Hancock. As “progressive” as Berkeley’s reputation is, the district has never been represented by a minority candidate.

The California State Assembly is the lower house of the California State Legislature. It consists of eighty members each representing at minimum 465,000 people. Due to California’s large population and relatively small legislature, the State Assembly has the largest population-per-representative ratio of any state lower house and second largest of any legislative lower house in the US after the federal House of Representatives. Members elected to the legislature prior to 2012 are restricted by term limits to three two-year terms (six years), while those elected in or after 2012 are allowed to serve twelve years in the legislature in any combination of four-year state senate or two-year state assembly terms. The State Assembly convenes at the California State Capitol in Sacramento.

Resources and Further Reading:

A Rush for the 15th | East Bay Express →
Creating opportunities for communities in Assembly District 15 | Asian Journal →
Contribute to Sam Kang’s campaign →

About The Author

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who moved to Emeryville in 2003. A new parent in the community, he can often be seen walking his French Bulldog rescue "Fiona" around his Park Avenue District neighborhood, traversing the greenway on his bike or enjoying his favorite Emeryville small businesses. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

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