Radnor resident mounts bid for Congress

Mainline Suburban Life
By Linda Stein

SPRINGFIELD >> Pearl Kim is in a hurry.

The 39-year-old Radnor resident said her life experiences led to her decision to run for Congress for the newly created 5th District. She’s trying to live up to her mantra: Be the change that you want to see in the world.

Kim grew up in Flourtown and graduated from Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, a first-generation American raised by her mother, Dr. Hi Sook Kim, a retired pediatrician, and father Dr. Kook Kan Kim, a dentist, who emigrated from South Korea. Kim studied fine arts at Bryn Mawr College through a joint program with Haverford College, she said.

Her parents came to America for “a better life. They truly wanted the American dream,” Kim said.

But in her senior year of college she was the victim of a campus sexual assault and that terrible experience put her on a different path.

“I went through the criminal justice system as a victim,” said Kim, during an interview at her campaign headquarters “It was truly one of the worst experiences of my life. And I was very displeased with the prosecutor. I didn’t get the justice that I was seeking. That is what inspired me to become a special victims prosecutor.”

After graduating from Villanova University School of Law, Kim joined the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office in 2007, where she eventually led the Human Trafficking Unit in the Special Victims and Domestic Violence Division.

“For me, becoming a special victims prosecutor and having the opportunity to work on changing our criminal justice system, is something that I take a lot of pride in,” said Kim. “I was able to secure the first human trafficking conviction in Pennsylvania. It certainly is a passion of mine, to work on criminal justice reform in general and making sure that victims have a voice.” She then helped legislators to craft the newer human trafficking legislation and obtained the first human trafficking conviction under that law. She also fought for other criminal justice initiatives, such as language access, she said.

In 2017, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro tapped Kim to lead his campus security initiative across the state, which she found “very meaningful.”

“As I was trekking across the state it made me realize a lot of the reform that I wanted to implement was federal, under Title IX,” said Kim. So when Congressman Pat Meehan unexpectedly left office under a cloud, Kim, a Republican, jumped at the chance to run for the newly created 5th District.

“I love campaigning, I really do,” said Kim. “What’s been pretty amazing is that people recognize me from the D.A.’s office…The Washington Post was filming us and I was in Yeadon at a diner, and a woman came up to me and said, ‘You worked in the D.A.’s office.’” Kim agreed that she did and the woman told her, “‘I’ll never forget you. You prosecuted my daughter’s offender.’ It’s moments like that that make everything worthwhile.”

While Kim was working in the D.A.’s office, she was diagnosed with cancer. It was during that time she adopted her dog, Scottie, a rescue who is a terrier mix. After she had owned Scottie for a while he became very sick from what turned out to be a tumor and an emergency veterinarian wanted to put him down, telling her that he had little chance of long-term survival. She refused and took Scottie to another vet for surgery to remove the tumor, which turned out to be benign.

When not campaigning, Kim likes to run or swim to stay healthy. She also likes to spend time with her family. Her parents moved to Radnor, where she’s lived since law school, to be nearer to her. Her younger brother, Edward Kim, is the father of the 6-year-old niece and 1-year-old nephew, who Kim adores. Kim enjoys listening to Christian music and Beyoncé. The last book she read was “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren.

Asked about her Christian faith, Kim said, “I found my faith to be a major component of my healing from the sexual assault. Because of my faith, I truly (think) surviving my experience meant that I had more to give and do on this Earth.”

As the daughter of immigrants, Kim is pro-legal immigration and she disagrees with the Trump administration “shaving away” legal forms of immigration. Immigration boosts the economy, she said.

“We need more legal immigration, not less,” she said. “Certainly, I believe we need to secure our border.” But she also opposes the zero-tolerance policy that led to separation of illegal immigrant parents and children. She also believes asylum seekers and refugees should be welcomed.

“I think it’s very important that we come together on this and have bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform,” said Kim.

But Kim does not agree with call to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE].

“I was temporarily living in New York City when the September 11th terrorist attacks occurred,” Kim said. “I was there when it happened and it’s very real. I definitely believe that ICE has a purpose in being able to remove individuals that are a threat to our public safety.”

“I lived next to Times Square with my cousin and I remember feeling like a sitting duck because we didn’t know where the next attack would be,” she said.

Asked about sanctuary cities, Kim said, “I do believe local and federal law enforcement should be cooperating.” But she does not concur with agreements that make local law enforcement “agents of ICE.”

As for the possibility of peace between the two Koreas that the Trump administration is hoping to foster, Kim said, “As a Korean-American, if the administration is able to achieve peace between North and South Korea, it would truly be historic. Talks have advanced further than at any point since the Korean War and that’s encouraging.”

Kim said Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee, is “well-qualified.” The most important thing for her is that a justice be “impartial, independent, above politics, that he truly weighs the facts of each case and respects the law of the land.”

Austin Hepburn, a Radnor Republican committeeman, said that he met Kim a few years ago at a rally for Sen. Pat Toomey. When he learned that she was interested in politics and lived in Ward 5, he asked her to be a committeewoman, since there was an opening. Kim served in that position but stepped down when she went to the AG’s Office.

Hepburn described Kim as truly concerned for victims and “the little guy.”

“That’s where her heart is,” said Hepburn. While there are plenty of people in Congress who represent corporate interests, Kim is different.

“She’s a champion for the victims, the little people, the most vulnerable. That’s why it’s important to get her elected.” But he also described Kim as “very tough, very strong and very focused.”

She is “forward thinking, caring, credible. Pearl is the real deal.”

She has lived the “American dream, the American success story,” said Hepburn.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Sheldon Kovach said that he got to know Kim well during the 10 years she worked in the D.A.’s Office.

She is enthusiastic and passionate about issues, such as human trafficking, he said.

“She was a certified crisis counselor before she went to law school,” he said. Beyond that, Kim is extremely ethical, he said.

“She’s always worried about doing not only the right thing but the ethical thing,” said Kovach. “That’s a thing people in Congress sometimes forget about…If she was elected she would contribute to the conscience of the Congress. She’s people-oriented certainly, from an outreach perspective, she would be responsive to her constituency. Her strength is in dealing with people.”

Kovach noted that Kim would be good at bringing people on both sides of the political aisle together to find solutions for issues like immigration reform. That’s her “greatest asset,” he said.

If elected Kim also plans to try to spur job creation and help small businesses with burdensome regulations, focus on the opioid crisis, along with drug and alcohol abuse, improved campus safety and mental health issues, she said.

“With my law enforcement background, I truly believe addiction is a disease,” she said. “We need to have better forms of treatment and better access to treatment.”

Members of the national media have sought Kim out, since more women than ever are running for office and Pennsylvania has the distinction of having no women representatives in Congress. But at least in the 5th District, with Kim and Democrat Mary Gay Scanlon running, there will be at least one woman representative sworn-in next year.

Kim quit her job in the AG’s Office to run for Congress.

She said that her bout with cancer made her realize how short life could be.

“I wanted to make a greater impact,” she said. “I wanted to effectuate even more change…I truly know what it feels like when you feel the government is not working for you… I’m very passionate about the government being for the people.”


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