Schaefer draws ire for Korea comment

Quote is published in Korean media


For the second time this year, Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer is making national news, but this time he's doing it in Korean.

The former governor's comments this week linking the North Korean government's launch of a long-range missile with the English education of Korean immigrants is drawing nationwide coverage in the Korean-language news media and causing dismay among Maryland's Korean-American voters.

"It's offending most of the Koreans that we have here," said David Han, president of the Korean Society of Maryland. He said the remarks could cost Schaefer support among a growing voting bloc in this year's election, in which Schaefer is seeking the Democratic nomination in a hotly contested race.

Han said Schaefer's remarks have been widely circulated in Korean circles throughout the country. He faxed a reporter a copy of a Korea Times article with Schaefer's picture and an article in Korean.

Young Kim, president of the Korean-American Association of the Washington Metropolitan Area, said he expects Schaefer's remarks to be a top agenda item when leaders of regional Korean groups meet Monday. Kim said he was "shocked and surprised and angry" at Schaefer's comments.

Laslo Boyd, a senior consultant with Schaefer's campaign, said he doesn't know why the comptroller singled out Korean-Americans. "I'm sure he meant no offense to Koreans or any other group," Boyd said.

Schaefer, 84, could not be reached for comment.

On Wednesday, Schaefer launched into a rambling commentary on immigration as the public works board considered a contract to provide testing services for the English as a Second Language program in state schools.

As state education officials tried to explain the contract, Schaefer demanded to know whether the program would benefit Korean students.

"Korea's another one, all of a sudden they're our friends, too, shooting missiles at us," he said.

Schaefer was apparently referring to North Korea's test launch this week of a long-range missile, which fell into the ocean. His remarks hit an especially sensitive nerve because most Korean- Americans are from South Korea and fiercely oppose the Pyongyang regime.

As translated by Han, the Korea Times said that "the Korean community is upset that Schaefer couldn't tell the difference between democratic South Korea and communist North Korea."

One of Schaefer's Democratic opponents, Del. Peter Franchot, jumped on the issue Thursday.

"Say you were a Korean-American CEO of a biotech company in Seattle, and you were deciding whether to locate a new manufacturing facility in Maryland or Virginia," the Montgomery County lawmaker said. "Would this be a state you would want to move business to?"

Schaefer's other opponent in the primary, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, said yesterday that when she read the remarks she "just cringed."

After Schaefer's remarks were reported Thursday, the comptroller sent a letter to the news media in which he clarified his comments. He said he was expressing his frustration that Maryland taxpayers were having to pay for English instruction as a result of federal immigration policies.

"I realize that, in the process, I may have conveyed the impression that I do not support education for everyone in this country," he wrote. Nowhere in the letter did he explain his comments on Korean-Americans.

Boyd said the comptroller does know the difference between North and South Korea, but added, "I'm not sure that geography was his strong suit in Trivial Pursuit."

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