History-making Va. lawmaker Mark Keam gets bipartisan send-off

Del. Mark Keam, at center, in a 2016 photo. (AP)

During a special session in Richmond Wednesday, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle paid tribute to Mark Keam, the now-former Democratic delegate who announced this week that he was resigning.

Keam, the first Korean American to be elected in Virginia’s General Assembly, was known for breaking down political barriers.

“Delegate Keam was the first Asian American immigrant and the first Korean immigrant to get to elected office on the state level ever in Virginia,” said Democratic Del. Rip Sullivan.

“He was also one of the first Korean Americans elected to any state legislature on the East Coast,” added Democratic Del. Irene Shin.

Republican Del. Nick Freitas said that he respected “the level of civility he approached everything with.”

“This is the only time I could’ve said that because he’s not seeking reelection. Because me saying nice things would have been devastating for him in his district,” Freitas said to laughter and applause.

Keam, who had served in the house of delegates since 2010, stepped down so he could take a job in the International Trade Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

He will serve as a deputy assistant secretary running the National Travel and Tourism Office, which is focused on bringing foreign travelers to the U.S.

Keam said he was excited to step into the new role at a time when the travel and tourism industries are at a “critical moment” in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A special House election will be held to replace Keam Jan. 10 in the 35th District, which is based in Fairfax County.

Bryan Graham, chair of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, said in a statement that the group was formalizing its plans to operate an “open and fair process” to choose its nominee.

One contender, Fairfax County School Board member Karl Frisch, announced his candidacy Tuesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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