(Photo: Viorel Florescu/NorthJersey.com)
HACKENSACK — Steve Chong took a step up the career ladder and the Korean-American community took a big step forward when he was sworn in Wednesday as deputy county clerk in Bergen County.
With his wife, Sinae, and infant son Bryce at his side, Chong took the oath of office that made him Bergen County’s first deputy county clerk of Korean heritage. The appointment also makes him the No. 2 person in the county clerk’s office, and one of the highest-ranking Korean-Americans to hold government office, not only in New Jersey, but in the country, according to the Korean-American Association of New Jersey.
“I will never forget where I came from and how I got this job,” Chong told the gathering of Korean-American dignitaries, friends, county workers and politicians who attended the swearing-in ceremony at the administration building.
“My door is always open, and I’m always there to help you,” he said.
Chong took the oath in front of a cluster of local political leaders, among them Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco, members of the Freeholder Board and state Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Englewood. Also on hand was Elynn Park, the president of the Korean-American Association of New Jersey, who said it was a proud moment for the community.
Tedesco said Chong was “absolutely the right choice for the people of Bergen County.” Johnson called Chong “dedicated, smart, intelligent and professional.”
Born in South Korea, Chong came to America with his family in 1997. He graduated from Pascack Valley High School in 2003, then went on to Stony Brook University, where he majored in political science.
A stint as a reporter with the Korea Daily News introduced him to Bergen County politics and county clerk John S. Hogan, who hired him in 2012 to do community outreach. Hogan said Chong knows every aspect of the clerk’s office, which handles passports, real estate records and elections, and generated $18 million in fees for Bergen County and $82 million for the state in 2017.
“Steve worked his way up,” Hogan said. “This is a proud moment for the Korean-American community in Bergen County.” A few minutes later, he added, “It’s a proud moment for all of us in Bergen County.”
Bergen County is home to about 60,000 Korean-Americans, making it one of the largest communities in America.
Currently, there are 11 Korean-Americans serving on town councils in Bergen County, among them Tenafly, Englewood Cliffs and Palisades Park. There are also 19 Korean-American school board members in Bergen County, according to the county clerk’s office.
The Rev. Albert Lee of the Chodae Community Church in Norwood said Chong’s appointment will open doors for Koreans. Lee said that culturally, Koreans tend to shy away from government involvement. The county clerk’s office already prints its brochures and election materials in Korean, but seeing a familiar face in the office can do wonders, he said.
“This is a great opportunity for the Korean community and all communities,” Lee said.
Chong will fill the vacancy caused by the departure of deputy clerk Lauren Zyriek, who was recently appointed director of intergovernmental affairs for the New Jersey Department of State by Gov. Phil Murphy. After Superior Court Judge James X. Sattely delivered the oath of office, Chong presented a bouquet of flowers to his wife and kissed his son.
“I want to prove that Mr. Hogan made the right choice by becoming the hardest-working deputy county clerk ever,” he said.