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The New Kid

The best thing about Sam Yoon is not just that he makes us look good. He makes us feel good.

Sam Yoon on the steps outside Boston City Hall.
Sam Yoon on the steps outside Boston City Hall. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)

The promiscuous use of "the New Boston" to describe almost anything reduces its meaning to almost nothing. But if one were to put a look to the new ethnicity in this city -- a rich confection that has long since subsumed the insipid Brahmin-Irish admixture -- it might well be the soft, seamless smile of Sam Yoon. The 35-year-old Yoon made history last month by becoming the first Asian-American elected to public office in Boston. He won with surprising ease an at-large seat on the City Council, a repository of static mediocrity for decades, by persuading Bostonians of all stripes and ages to vote for him.

That is the political explanation. The emotive one is that he's a good story, and Boston could use a few. The Korean-born son of immigrants, Yoon was raised in Pennsylvania Dutch country and ended up at Princeton University and Harvard's Kennedy School on his way to becoming director of housing of Chinatown's Asian Community Development Corp. He lives with his wife, Tina, who earned a doctorate in biology from MIT, and their two children in Dorchester.

Only a misanthrope could sit on his hands at Yoon's success. He makes us feel good. He makes us look good. Boston was as much enamored of the idea of Sam Yoon as of the man himself. Maybe Boston was atoning for its troubled racial past. Maybe Yoon's timing was simply good -- he ran when Caucasians in this city have been reduced to a minority. Maybe he was inevitable.

Some politicians stake out positions and, by sheer force of will, draw voters to them. Others seek to please. Yoon is of the second ilk. He never stormed the ramparts. He frightened no one. (He should be able to pass for an undergraduate for another decade or so.) At the end of the day, he was a safe vote. And he has something for everyone. His sensitivity to immigrant issues is obvious, as is his support of minorities. His lefty credentials are solid, if his agenda is vague. His resume sparkles with Ivy League bling. He reeks of competence.

We don't know if Yoon will be a driver or passenger on this new ride. For now, he's the face of a blur of New Bostons. That's his blessing and his curse. But what an accomplishment. Welcome aboard, Sam.

Sam Allis is a member of the Globe staff. E-mail him at

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