The general manager of the embattled Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) filed Friday to run for the 13th District City Council seat.
It was not immediately clear whether BongHwan Kim would step down from his city job in order to run. He was appointed to the post by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
DONE, also known as Empower LA, in partnership with the current 95 Neighborhood Councils, last year fought back a City Council attempt to merge it into the Department of Community Development. On Wednesday, DONE wrested from the City Clerk the authority to run Neighborhood Council elections. The City Council has yet to allocate funds for those elections.
Among the Neighborhood Councils supervised by DONE in Valley Patch communities are: Chatsworth, Porter Ranch, Northridge East, Northridge West, Northridge South, Encino, Tarzana, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Mid-Town North Hollywood, North Hollywood West and North Hollywood North East. The volunteers elected to their Neighborhood Councils are advisory to the City Council.
BongHwan Kim, also known as BH, filed the necessary paperwork with the City Ethics Commission, allowing him to start raising money for the race to replace City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who is termed out of the seat and is running for mayor.
The district includes the neighborhoods of Echo Park, Silver Lake, East Hollywood, Hollywood and Atwater Village.
Because of redistricting, Kim, who lives in Glassell Park, will have to move into the district.
He joins a crowded field of potential candidates, including Mitch O'Farrell, a senior Garcetti adviser; actor, businessman and community activist Scott Crawford; Echo Park Neighborhood Council President Jose Sigala; East Hollywood Neighborhood Council member Sam Kbushyan; attorney and former Mayor Richard Riordan staffer Josh Post; small business owner Reuben Martinez; and writer and former film editor Thomas Marshall Penick, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's deputy chief of staff, Matt Szabo, and Sen. Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles, are considering running for the seat but have not formally entered the race. Board of Public Works Commissioner John Choi is also rumored to be considering a run.
Los Angeles Fire Department Deputy Chief Emile Mack has already filed to run.
Kim, who became Department of Neighborhood Empowerment assistant general manager in 2007, general manager in 2008 and was reappointed general manager in November, said he would use the seat to improve civic engagement and what he called participatory democracy.
"Government needs to do a better job of making sure that neighborhoods are more empowered," Kim said. "Working with neighborhoods is going to be one of the few ways that government is going to be able to survive these tough economic times, and I'm uniquely qualified to do that."
Kim touted his credential as the manager of an entire city department and its budget. Kim oversees the city's 95 Neighborhood Councils.
If elected, Kim said he would take a two-pronged approach to the citywide budget crisis, looking for places to cut expenses and ways to raise revenue, such as getting insurance companies to pay for more Los Angeles Fire Department paramedic responses.
He said he would push for more public-private partnerships, though Kim said he is also concerned about threats to city unions.
"I think we need a stronger public sector. We don't need a bigger government. We need a smarter government," he said.
Kim, who earned a public administration degree from Harvard University, also touted his role in community building. He was a mediator between the Black and Korean-American communities in the wake of the 1992 riots.
Kim and Mack, both Korean-Americans, raise the prospect of returning an Asian American to the City Council for the first time since 1993, when Michael Woo, now a planning commissioner, left the council.
Their campaigns are likely to be bolstered by the recent emergence of a strengthened Korean-American political activist community. A number of Korean-American organizations coalesced during the city's contentious redistricting process, which ignored the group's call for Koreatown to be consolidated in one council district.
Attorney Jane Oak, who actively protested the redistricting process, said Korean-American groups are set to begin a large voter registration drive to elect a Korean-American to the council.
"We're not done with trying to push people to become active," Oak said.
The primary will be March 5, 2013.
-- City News Service contributed to this report.