Yoon looks to D.C. for new start

Mayoral candidate says he struggled to find work after race

By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / June 29, 2010

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Sam Yoon, the former Boston city councilor who challenged incumbent Mayor Thomas M. Menino in last year’s election, says that he struggled to get a job in the city after losing the race because some prospective employers saw him as a risk.

And now, Yoon is headed out of town. Two weeks ago, he accepted a job in Washington, D.C., as the executive director of the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations. In August, he will relocate to Falls Church, Va., in Fairfax County, near the home of his wife’s parents. His Fields Corner condo now sports a “for sale’’ sign.

Yoon said yesterday that his failure to find work in Boston since November was a factor in accepting a job with a nonprofit group in Washington.

“I got signals, mixed signals,’’ Yoon said, referring to his Boston job search. “To the extent that I was looking for a leadership position in the city, there were signals sent my way. It was subtle, but clear, that the fact I had run on a reform platform left some em ployers not willing to take a chance on me. . . . I knew there were risks involved for me in running against a 16-year incumbent, but I didn’t know the degree that it would pervade the important institutions.

“Being unemployed was frustrating,’’ he added.

He declined to talk about where he applied or which potential employers feared he might be a risky hire.

Yoon, 40, ran a grass-roots campaign in 2005 as a newcomer in a city with a complex political landscape, becoming the first person to win an at-large council seat on the first attempt. He rode the wave to a second term in 2007 but decided against running for a third term and instead tossed his hat into the mayoral race. He came in third in the primary in September, and then he endorsed fellow councilor Michael Flaherty, who lost to Menino in November.

Yoon’s decision to move to the Washington area was first reported Sunday night on the Boston Phoenix’s website.

In taking on the new job, Yoon, a Democrat, returns to his roots. After graduating from Harvard University, he worked as a community organizer in Boston.

Some analysts believe Yoon might have had a political future here if he had been more patient.

Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, said Yoon was the victim of a rushed timetable. “He suggested a different approach to running the city, a natural course for a candidate who has to convince voters he is a better choice. But I do think he could have taken a different approach by creating a résumé for himself on the City Council for more than two terms, and then running for mayor at a time of transition, which would enhance his chances and bolster his reputation.

“It would have been nice to have his perspective in Boston, but it seems that will not happen again,’’ he said.

Always dapper by the break of dawn during his council days, Yoon acknowledges that on occasion now he stays in pajamas through midmorning. He has spent most of his days with his two children, an 8-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter, often taking them to a community pool. And he has tried to stay out of the way of his wife, Tina, a work-at-home consultant for local nonprofits. “I’ve invaded her office,’’ he said.

Yoon likened his days as a politician to being on a 60 mile-per-hour treadmill. Since November, he has kept a low profile in local politics. He appeared on television to offer his opinion on the firefighter’s contract; organized a town hall-style event for Governor Deval Patrick in Chinatown; and managed the Asian Political Leadership Fund that he created to help more Asian-Americans run for office. Yoon was born in South Korea and his family moved to the United States when he was an infant.

Yesterday afternoon, dressed in off-white shorts and a blue short-sleeve shirt, he sat in front of a computer opposite his wife in a sparsely decorated home-office, composing e-mails. The children were at summer camp, and the family dog wandered about their feet.

“I’ve really had time to examine my values and what is truly important, in the absence of being on that treadmill,’’ he said. “When you’ve had time to stop and listen, you get to sort out the things that are important rather than things that come and go. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect, but still, it’s hard to slow down, to put down the sword.’’

Brian Ballou can be reached at

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