Benson Wong, a 30-year resident of Mercer Island, has an array of talents and experiences that can be immediately put to good use as we face the tumult of the years ahead.
Wong and his wife, Terry, both born in Seattle, have lived on the Island for 30 years. Their two children attended and graduated from Mercer Island public schools. Wong holds an undergraduate degree in political science from Yale University, and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
Wong is smart, but low key. His success as an attorney is underscored by his ability to negotiate, his reputation for thorough research and his compassion. Perhaps more than it should, a good portion of his legal practice has been for nonprofit organizations.
Wong is also a businessman. Wong and his partners operate a law practice in downtown Seattle. There, he pays rent, hires and fires attorneys, pays his taxes and manages finances and ensures there is enough work for his staff.
But it is his public service that stands apart. Wong’s nonprofit and volunteer work has ranged from the very large and complex to the very personal. Wong served for 14 years on the Washington State Public Stadium Authority, appointed by the governor to oversee the $430 million development of Century Link Field. Yet he has found time to serve the poor and elderly. He helps out at Operation Nightwatch on the street in downtown Seattle. And he is the counsel of record for the Kin On organization, a health care network that serves Chinese seniors, which he helped to found and incorporate in 1984.
Wong received the Founders Award from the Washington Public Affairs Network for his years of work for public television. He is an officer with the Washington State Bar Association Foundation. Closer to home, he has served on the Mercer Island Community Fund and other committees.
A humble man, Wong rarely mentions these types of activities and the accomplishments that they have brought.
It is simply what he does.
With a group of other attorneys in the 1980s, Wong took on the case of Gordon Hirabayashi, a Japanese American student attending the University of Washington, who in 1942 was convicted of violating a curfew order and relocation order during the Japanese-American internment.
Historians later discovered that documents used to justify some actions were altered, indicating that internment policies were often more racist than concerned with national security.
Wong and several other Asian American West Coast attorneys represented Hirabayashi and others in what appeared to be a straightforward six-month pro bono case, but which lasted six years. Hirabayashi’s convictions were eventually vacated.
Hirabayashi was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Wong’s public service and training as an attorney will help the Island navigate difficult situations to come.
Finally, born in the U.S. to Asian immigrant parents, Wong’s ethnicity is representative of more than 15 percent of the Island population.
While we now have good representation of women on our Council, here is a chance to give voice to even more Islanders.