Sunset Park

Yungman Lee: From immigrant to congressional hopeful

December 10, 2015 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Yungman Lee hopes to win the seat in the 7th Congressional District. Photo courtesy of Yungman Lee For Congress
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Yungman Lee came to the U.S. from Hong Kong at the age of 16 and has lived the American Dream.

Lee graduated from Columbia University and went on to attend New York University Law School, earning his law degree. He has worked for high-powered law firms and started his own law practice in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

Over the years, Lee established himself as a community leader in Chinatown, working to establish a health clinic and a food co-op in the community.

When Mario Cuomo was governor, he tapped Lee to serve as deputy superintendent of the New York state Banking Department.

Lee is currently president and CEO of Global Bank on East Broadway in Manhattan.

And at the age of 63, he is making his first foray into politics.

Lee, a Democrat, announced on Dec. 2 that he intends to run against longtime U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez in the Democratic Primary in the 7th Congressional District (CD) on June 28.

Velazquez has represented the 7th CD since 1992. The district runs across three boroughs, taking in neighborhoods in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Both the Manhattan and Brooklyn Chinatowns are in the district.

The Brooklyn neighborhoods in the district include all or parts of Sunset Park, Red Hook, Bushwick, Vinegar Hill, Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, Gowanus, Park Slope, Greenwood, DUMBO and Cobble Hill.

Lee is hoping that voters are impressed with his record as a community leader and with his expertise in the law and in banking.

“I feel truly, at this age, that I want to do something more meaningful,” Lee told the Brooklyn Eagle during a recent interview.

Lee has been conducting voters registration drives in the Asian-American community and hopes to turn out the vote on June 28. “My goal is to educate the Asian community and to organize. Our voting rate is very low,” he said.

He attributes the low voter turnout among Asian-Americans to their status as immigrants.

Chinese-Americans came to the U.S. from a Communist country, he noted. Once they arrived in America, they concentrated on working hard, building successful lives and educating their children. For the most part, they avoided politics. “I believe that they thought that once they were living in a free country, a democracy, they didn’t have to bother with politics,” Lee said.

Lee is quick to point out that while he will push for a high Asian-American turnout at the polls, he also plans to reach out to voters of all nationalities.

Lee recalled his days as a Columbia student as an exciting time in his life. It was the late 1960s. He took part in protests against the Vietnam War. There was a great deal of idealism in the air. “A lot of us wanted to do relevant things,” he said.

After he graduated from Columbia, he went to law school. Following law school, Lee spent three years working at the law firm Shearman & Sterling before leaving to establish a Chinatown law practice with two colleagues. His law firm, Lee Lee & Ling, was open from 1985 to 1991. “We handled all types of cases; immigration, employment divorce, people buying homes. We wanted to help the community,” he said.

Lee was also a civic leader in Manhattan’s Chinatown, working at a community food co-op. “We used to get up at three o’clock in the morning and go to the Hunts Point market to buy fresh fruits and vegetables,” he said. The co-op founders started an educational effort to teach local residents the importance of eating healthy, nutritious foods.

Lee was also instrumental in the establishment of the Chinatown Health Clinic. “There was a problem with lack of access to health care in the Chinese community,” he said. “We reached out to try and recruit doctors to give us a couple of hours each at the clinic. We recruited 50 to 100 doctors.”

Lee served as the clinic’s program director for three years, and was eventually named chairman of the board of directors.

“A lot of us involved in the clinic were college graduates, and it occurred to us that writing grant proposals to get money to expand our programs was just like writing papers in college. We applied for a grant to become a primary care facility,” he said.

Becoming a primary care facility was important, he said. “It’s less expensive to do preventative medicine than to treat a disease,” he said.

The clinic is still operating in Chinatown.

In 1991, Lee was appointed by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo to serve as deputy superintendent of the New York state Banking Department, a position he held until 1994. His tenure with the Banking Department focused on protecting consumers and taxpayer dollars during the banking industry’s restructuring following the nationwide savings and loan crisis.

In 1995, Lee accepted a position as president and CEO of United Orient Bank and served there for seven years. He returned to practicing law in 2002, working at the firm Herrick Feinstein until 2006. From 2006 to 2008, he served as general counsel of the Sun Sun Group, a privately owned development company.

In 2008, Lee became the president and CEO of Global Bank, the position he holds today.

Global Bank works primarily with small businesses, and is a stable $140 million community stalwart, according to Lee. Global Bank has loaned more than $100 million to individuals and businesses in New York City over the past five years, he said.


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