'Survivor' considers run for Lantos' seat

Yul Kwon, the San Mateo management consultant better known for outsmarting and outplaying his competitors to win the $1 million prize on “Survivor: Cook Islands” in 2006, is considering a run for Congress.

The 32-year-old registered Democrat said Tuesday that he is not ready to make a public statement, but he has told friends, colleagues and several elected officials he is strongly considering running.

If Kwon decides to announce his candidacy, he will be facing former state Sen. Jackie Speier to represent California’s 12th Congressional District, which includes most of San Mateo and part of San Francisco counties. Longtime incumbent Tom Lantos announced earlier this month he would not seek re-election due to cancer of the esophagus.

Kwon has never held office but is not without political experience. After graduating from Yale Law School and serving as a law clerk in the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York, Kwon served as a legislative aide to Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., drafting sections of the Homeland Security Bill and working on technology-related legislation.

On Tuesday, Lieberman called Kwon “extremely able and effective” in a prepared statement and said he demonstrated a particular competence in drafting complicated legislation and helping to navigate it through Congress.

“Yul’s ability to master the details of technology and research and develoment issues was quite impressive. These are skills that a Member of Congress would find very useful in serving his or her contituency,” Lieberman said in the statement.

Rep. Mike Honda, D-Campbell, who knows Kwon through the “Survivor” winner’s efforts to encourage Asians to donate bone marrow, said Kwon’s leadership skills and “razor-sharp focus” would make him a capable Congress member. But Speier would be tough to beat, Honda conceded.

“Jackie’s been around for a long time, and she has great name recognition,” Honda said. “That would be a challenge for Yul.”

But friends and former colleagues of Kwon point out that he does indeed have name recognition — both through his work with the Asian-American community and through his stint on “Survivor.”

“Name recognition counts for a lot, and Yul has name recognition in the district. What will help more is that he’s smart and thoughtful and generally a likable guy,” said Scott Harris, managing partner of Harris, Wiltshire and Grannis, a law firm that Kwon had worked for.

Mandeep Dhillon, who recruited Kwon to management consultant firm McKinsey and Co. in 2004, said Kwon’scandidacy might bring people who don’t ordinarily vote to the ballot box.

“There’s probably only a handful of people who could beat Jackie Speier,” Dhillon said. “Do I believe Yul is in that small group? Yes.”

tbarak@examiner.com  

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