A makeshift memorial of homemade signs, flowers, and flags hangs on the gate outside of Ward D Councilman Michael Yun’s office honoring the man taken too soon at age 65 after battling COVID-19.
Yun represented the Jersey City Heights. In 2013 he became the first Korean-American to be elected to public office in the city.
Yun came to the U.S. from Korea in 1979. He and his wife, Jennifer (Seong Hee Ahn), have owned and operated Garden State News on Central Avenue since 1982.
In 1992 Yun helped found the city’s first Special Improvement District (SID) and served as President and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the SID for more than 20 years.
He worked to establish Jersey City as an Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) and initiated the Everything Jersey City Festival. He helped establish the first commuter bus line from Central Avenue to New York City and served as President of the Jersey City Merchant’s Council for 20 years, representing more than 3,000 small-business owners and operators.
As an Executive Trustee of the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation, as a member of the Jersey City Master Plan Advisory Committee, and the Hudson County Strategic Revitalization committee, he pushed for economic growth.
Wearing a smile, a smart suit, and a bow tie, he sought to improve local government and quality of life. A defender of taxpayers, he scrutinized every budget line item.
He stood up for what he believed was right for the city and his constituents and volunteered for community organizations, helping to build the Korean War Veterans Memorial and preserve Reservoir #3.
‘A great loss’
“Michael and I knew each other for over 46 years and in recent years, he became my closest friend,” said Councilman Richard Boggiano. “We shared a mutual love for Jersey City and it’s people. I can’t imagine the council without him or walking Central Ave without his storefront … ”
Said Ward E Councilman James Solomon,“Michael’s love and care for his beloved Jersey City shone through every one of his actions: The analysis of every word of every ordinance and resolution; the toy drives and turkey giveaways; the fight against abatements; the commitment to improve Pershing Field and Central Avenue.”
Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey said, “When I first came on to Council I met with him at his office in the Heights to talk about tax abatements and the city budget. He was always generous with his time and brokered more than one dispute over tea.”
Mayor Steven Fulop honored Yun in a Facebook Live update.
“He was a stickler for details,” Fulop said. “Not everybody reads the fine print on every single thing that comes across their desk. Michael did and you always had to make sure your T’s were crossed and I’s were dotted.”
He said Yun was the first person in the city to talk to him regarding the need to take COVID-19, at that time in Asia, seriously, calling for meetings with hospitals.
“To see how quickly he deteriorated and passed really speaks to how dangerous this is,” Fulop said.
“I had literally exchanged notes with Michael probably about not more than a week ago,” said Gov. Phil Murphy. “A good man, a great professional, a terrific husband, father, grandfather. … An outstanding public servant and a really, really good guy.”
In a letter to Councilman Yun’s wife, South Korean Ambassador to the United States Lee Soo Hyuck, said, “Councilman Yun was a dedicated and self-sacrificing politician who touched the lives of many people.”
Robert Winnicki, of the Polish Parliament’s lower house, honored him with a prayer and moment of silence.
“Regrettably, we have learned that the Councilman of Jersey City, the Great defender of the Katyn Monument in that city, the great friend of Poland and the Polish people, passed away.”
In 2018, Yun had opposed moving the Katyn memorial in Exchange Place, which pays tribute to the Katyn massacre of 1940, and introduced an ordinance that would keep it at Exchange Place .
In his memory
People across the city placed a lit candles in their windows on Friday night.
After restrictions on gatherings have been lifted, the family and the city plan to have a memorial.
Yun is survived by wife Jennifer, sons Brian and Benjamin, daughters-in-law Jacqueline and Julie, grandchildren William, Clara, and Juliette, older sister Hae Jung Yun and her husband Myung Ho Do, younger sister Victoria Cho and her husband Insang Cho, younger brother Richard and his wife Angela, nieces and nephews, and everyone he’s supported.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to the Jersey City Reservoir Preservation Alliance.
Go to www.jcreservoir.com/donate.