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Immigrant and Newcomer to Politics Has a Tip for America

February 23, 1988|SAM ENRIQUEZ | Times Staff Writer

Congressional candidate Sang R. Korman has a five-year plan that he said can make anybody in America rich.

"First, don't spend any money," said Korman, a Korean-American businessman and political newcomer who is challenging first-term Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) in the June primary.

"Work two or three jobs, 12 to 14 hours a day and save $10,000. Buy a junk house, fix it up when you are not working, sell it and buy a better one," the 50-year-old Korman said during an interview Friday at his Newbury Park tract home. "Keep doing that for five years."

The plan, simple though not easy, is a proven one, Korman said, because "that's how I did it."

He emigrated to the United States from Korea 16 years ago with less than $100 and recently sold the second of two 25,000-square-foot office buildings that he built near downtown Los Angeles.

Cultures Compared

Korman's prescription for wealth illustrates the notions of hard work and personal sacrifice that underlie his political beliefs. America's troubles have occurred in large part because the United States has failed to teach its youth the moral and ethical standards taught in Asian societies, he said.

"Even if I lose, getting my message to people will be worth it," said Korman, the owner of Goldwell Investors, a Los Angeles-based commercial real estate firm, and a Newbury Park resident for nine years.

Despite having no political experience and no name recognition among voters, Korman said he believes he can beat Gallegly in the June 7 primary as long as he can deliver his message to the estimated 175,000 registered Republicans in the 21st District.

To do that, Korman expects to raise between $200,000 and $400,000. The bulk of that money will come from Korean-American contributors outside the solidly Republican district, he said. Korman said he will contribute as much as $50,000 to $80,000 of his own money if necessary.

The 21st District includes eastern Ventura County, part of the north and west San Fernando Valley, Fillmore, Ojai and Santa Catalina Island.

Pitch for Funds

His pitch to Korean-American contributors is twofold. In a letter in January to Korean-American business leaders as far away as New York, Korman said it is their duty to become politically active in their adopted country.

"I tell them, 'Don't look back to Korea. Forget it. We are Americans now. Let's do something for this country,' " Korman said.

In his appeals to Los Angeles-area Korean-American businessmen, Korman said he aims at one of their deepest interests: good education for their children. But he doesn't join the calls for more math and science to students.

Instead, Korman said the emphasis should be directed to the teaching of patriotism, honesty, responsibility and compassion.

"We have focused too much on teaching the professions and not enough on building character," he said.

Such improvements would result from stiffer homework requirements and stricter discipline in schools and would not cost more money, Korman said. But he does favor increased federal aid to districts that pay low wages and that are losing teachers to higher paying professions, he said.

Education Views

As were most of his political beliefs, his views on education were formed through his experience, Korman said. His parents were so poor that he was forced to skip grades seven through nine to work, he said. He returned to school in the 10th grade and eventually graduated from Korea University in Seoul with a degree in political and diplomatic science.

That education paid off not only in what he learned but also in the contacts he still maintains as a member and past president of the Korea University Alumni Assn. of Southern California, Korman said.

Many of his contributors and business contacts in the Korean-American community are fellow alumni now working in professions in the Los Angeles area, he said. Korman's popularity in the Korean community reflects a growing desire to expand the group's political voice, Korean-American leaders have said.

One of his college classmates, now a congressman representing a portion of Seoul, has invited Korman to attend the inauguration Thursday of newly elected South Korean President Roh Tae Woo. Korman, who was to leave Sunday to attend the event, said he has arranged through former classmates now serving in Roh's cabinet to meet this week with South Korea's trade minister.

"I will ask them why can't they buy more goods from the United States," said Korman, who drives a new American sedan.

Korman opposes the use of trade barriers such as high tariffs to reduce the amount of foreign goods sold in this country. He said he believes the United States can reverse its trade imbalance by persuading Pacific Rim trading partners to allow more U.S. goods to be sold there.

Korman said he also believes that U.S. firms must be more innovative in selling goods overseas. He cites as an example an incident from his youthful employment with a Korean firm importing finished lumber from Oregon.

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