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From prominent civil activist to third-term mayor

A memorial photo of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon is seen at Seoul National University Hospital in Jongno, Seoul, Friday. Yonhap
A memorial photo of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon is seen at Seoul National University Hospital in Jongno, Seoul, Friday. Yonhap

By Bahk Eun-ji

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, 64, who was found dead near Sukjeong Gate on Mount Bugak at around 12:20 a.m. Friday, was a former civic activist before he was elected. He emerged as one of the ruling Democratic Party's leading presidential candidates after he became a three-term mayor of the nation's capital, but his sudden death amid allegations in a #MeToo scandal shocked not only the political community but also the whole country.

Born in Changnyeong, South Gyeongsang Province, he entered Seoul National University after graduating from Gyeonggi High School in 1974, but was jailed for participating in protests against Korea's dictatorship, and subsequently expelled from SNU. Park later passed the 22nd bar exam after graduating from Dankook University in 1980.

After his brief career as a prosecutor, Park opened his law firm in 1983. He began to make his name known in the political community by defending suspects involved in public security cases, and began to step into civic movements in the 1990s. From 1996, he served as the secretary general of the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy and launched a movement seeking rights for minority shareholders, and a campaign to disclose information on budget monitoring of public organizations. He also opened a nonprofit organization "Beautiful Store" where donations from citizens are sold cheaply and its profits are used for charities.

A Seoul Metropolitan Government official holds a note left by Mayor Park Won-soon, which reads
A Seoul Metropolitan Government official holds a note left by Mayor Park Won-soon, which reads "Sorry for everyone, for giving nothing but pain," at Seoul National University Hospital in Jongno, Seoul, Friday. Yonhap
Although Park led the progressive civic movement, he was barley known in politics. In 2011, he stepped into institutional politics when he was elected Seoul mayor as an independent candidate in a by-election held when Oh Se-hoon, a member of the Grand National Party, resigned to take responsibility for the failure of a referendum on free school meals.

Park won his third term in the 2018 local elections, defeating candidates Chung Mong-joon of the ruling Saenuri Party and Kim Moon-soo of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party. While serving as the first three-term Seoul mayor, he continued to carry out many experimental policies such as cutting college tuition in half, providing free school meals, permanent-employment status to irregular workers, youth allowances and urban regeneration.

Along with positive reviews from citizens about the city government life-centered administration, criticism has also been raised, which claimed, "The mayor was only centered on gaining popularity among the people and operated the city government as a civic group."

During his third term, he appointed a number of current ruling party officials to deputy mayor posts for political affairs, and many of them entered the 20th and 21st National Assembly, expanding his influence in the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK).

It is known that Park had been preparing to run in the 2022 presidential election. At a private luncheon held at Cheong Wa Dae in late August last year, he reportedly said, "I would like to do more for the country and the people," to President Moon Jae-in.

He is said to have frequently contacted close ruling party figures such as lawmakers Park Hong-keun, Ki Dong-min, Jin Sung-joon and Kim Won, who were elected in the April 15 general election this year, to discuss ways to prepare for the presidential election. Park also recently showed his willingness to run in the presidential election at a meeting with 17 lawmakers of the DPK he was close to and discussing strategies for the presidential campaign, according to a ruling party official.

Park Won-soon raises up bouquet after winning his third term for Seoul mayoral election in this 2018 file photo. Yonhap
Park Won-soon raises up bouquet after winning his third term for Seoul mayoral election in this 2018 file photo. Yonhap

However, Park seems to have been under pressure after police received a complaint of sexual harassment filed by a female employee. A high-ranking police official said, "It is an event that is expected to have political repercussions to the extent that it is called the second Ahn Hee-jung case." Members of the DPK, former Busan Mayor Oh Keo-don resigned in April this year after admitting to sexual harassing a secretary, and former South Chungcheong Province Governor Ahn Hee-jung was jailed in 2018 after being found guilty of rape and sexual harassment.

Park's body was taken to Seoul National University (SNU) Hospital early Friday morning after it was found during a seven-hour search. Despite the cloudy weather with heavy rain, acquaintances and his supporters, including lawmakers Park Hong-geun, Lee Hak-young and Nam In-soon of the DPK, stood at the entrance of the emergency medical center and waited for the ambulance.

Some of them wept when the vehicle arrived, crying out, "Get up, Park," and "We love you."

A memorial hall was set up for Park at the hospital at around 9 a.m. With a large number of reporters gathering in front of the hall, Rep. Ki Dong-min, former senior presidential secretary Ha Seung-chang, Rep. Heo Young and other fellow politicians paid their respects to the former mayor. A male visitor, who identified himself as a DPK member, shed tears and said, "I can't believe it."

The Seoul Metropolitan Government said it plans to hold a city funeral for Park after a five-day mourning period, and the funeral cortege will leave Monday. The city government also said it will set up a separate memorial altar in front of the government building so that residents can pay their respects.


A memorial photo of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon is seen at Seoul National University Hospital in Jongno, Seoul, Friday. Yonhap
A memorial photo of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon is seen at Seoul National University Hospital in Jongno, Seoul, Friday. Yonhap

By Bahk Eun-ji

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, 64, who was found dead near Sukjeong Gate on Mount Bugak at around 12:20 a.m. Friday, was a former civic activist before he was elected. He emerged as one of the ruling Democratic Party's leading presidential candidates after he became a three-term mayor of the nation's capital, but his sudden death amid allegations in a #MeToo scandal shocked not only the political community but also the whole country.

Born in Changnyeong, South Gyeongsang Province, he entered Seoul National University after graduating from Gyeonggi High School in 1974, but was jailed for participating in protests against Korea's dictatorship, and subsequently expelled from SNU. Park later passed the 22nd bar exam after graduating from Dankook University in 1980.

After his brief career as a prosecutor, Park opened his law firm in 1983. He began to make his name known in the political community by defending suspects involved in public security cases, and began to step into civic movements in the 1990s. From 1996, he served as the secretary general of the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy and launched a movement seeking rights for minority shareholders, and a campaign to disclose information on budget monitoring of public organizations. He also opened a nonprofit organization "Beautiful Store" where donations from citizens are sold cheaply and its profits are used for charities.

A Seoul Metropolitan Government official holds a note left by Mayor Park Won-soon, which reads
A Seoul Metropolitan Government official holds a note left by Mayor Park Won-soon, which reads "Sorry for everyone, for giving nothing but pain," at Seoul National University Hospital in Jongno, Seoul, Friday. Yonhap
Although Park led the progressive civic movement, he was barley known in politics. In 2011, he stepped into institutional politics when he was elected Seoul mayor as an independent candidate in a by-election held when Oh Se-hoon, a member of the Grand National Party, resigned to take responsibility for the failure of a referendum on free school meals.

Park won his third term in the 2018 local elections, defeating candidates Chung Mong-joon of the ruling Saenuri Party and Kim Moon-soo of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party. While serving as the first three-term Seoul mayor, he continued to carry out many experimental policies such as cutting college tuition in half, providing free school meals, permanent-employment status to irregular workers, youth allowances and urban regeneration.

Along with positive reviews from citizens about the city government life-centered administration, criticism has also been raised, which claimed, "The mayor was only centered on gaining popularity among the people and operated the city government as a civic group."

During his third term, he appointed a number of current ruling party officials to deputy mayor posts for political affairs, and many of them entered the 20th and 21st National Assembly, expanding his influence in the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK).

It is known that Park had been preparing to run in the 2022 presidential election. At a private luncheon held at Cheong Wa Dae in late August last year, he reportedly said, "I would like to do more for the country and the people," to President Moon Jae-in.

He is said to have frequently contacted close ruling party figures such as lawmakers Park Hong-keun, Ki Dong-min, Jin Sung-joon and Kim Won, who were elected in the April 15 general election this year, to discuss ways to prepare for the presidential election. Park also recently showed his willingness to run in the presidential election at a meeting with 17 lawmakers of the DPK he was close to and discussing strategies for the presidential campaign, according to a ruling party official.

Park Won-soon raises up bouquet after winning his third term for Seoul mayoral election in this 2018 file photo. Yonhap
Park Won-soon raises up bouquet after winning his third term for Seoul mayoral election in this 2018 file photo. Yonhap

However, Park seems to have been under pressure after police received a complaint of sexual harassment filed by a female employee. A high-ranking police official said, "It is an event that is expected to have political repercussions to the extent that it is called the second Ahn Hee-jung case." Members of the DPK, former Busan Mayor Oh Keo-don resigned in April this year after admitting to sexual harassing a secretary, and former South Chungcheong Province Governor Ahn Hee-jung was jailed in 2018 after being found guilty of rape and sexual harassment.

Park's body was taken to Seoul National University (SNU) Hospital early Friday morning after it was found during a seven-hour search. Despite the cloudy weather with heavy rain, acquaintances and his supporters, including lawmakers Park Hong-geun, Lee Hak-young and Nam In-soon of the DPK, stood at the entrance of the emergency medical center and waited for the ambulance.

Some of them wept when the vehicle arrived, crying out, "Get up, Park," and "We love you."

A memorial hall was set up for Park at the hospital at around 9 a.m. With a large number of reporters gathering in front of the hall, Rep. Ki Dong-min, former senior presidential secretary Ha Seung-chang, Rep. Heo Young and other fellow politicians paid their respects to the former mayor. A male visitor, who identified himself as a DPK member, shed tears and said, "I can't believe it."

The Seoul Metropolitan Government said it plans to hold a city funeral for Park after a five-day mourning period, and the funeral cortege will leave Monday. The city government also said it will set up a separate memorial altar in front of the government building so that residents can pay their respects.


Bahk Eun-ji ejb@koreatimes.co.kr

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