U.S.-Iran tensions, Australian wildfires and climate catastrophe all got airtime at newly elected Port of Seattle Commissioner Sam Cho’s first meeting Tuesday.

But first, he had to be sworn in — twice.

Once by former Commission President Stephanie Bowman, in English.

Then by his mother, Kathy, in Korean.

With that, Cho, 29, a former legislative assistant and owner of an egg-product export business, became the only minority commissioner on the five-member elected body.

Cho defeated former Bellevue mayor and City Councilmember Grant Degginger in a hotly contested race last fall. He replaces Courtney Gregoire, who decided to leave the Commission.

His campaign promised to do more to ensure some of the Port’s projected $6.5 billion spending over the next five years flows to minority-owned businesses.

The Port Commission, responsible for overseeing Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, cargo shipping and cruise lines, has historically struggled to represent Seattle’s diversity.

Lloyd Hara became the first Asian American elected to the Port Commission in 2005. Four years later, Rob Holland became the first Black commissioner.


The Port’s atrium was packed with Korean-language media and representatives of Seattle’s Korean American community eager to celebrate Cho’s election.

But in a speech following his swearing-in ceremony, Cho chose to focus on issues well beyond the Port.

Cho said he was perturbed by reports that Customs and Border Protection detained nearly 60 Iranians and Iranian Americans last weekend at the Canadian border amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Cho’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Korea 30 years ago, settling in Kirkland, where they ran a dry-cleaning business.

“I’m forced to wonder if my parents tried to immigrate to this country today, would they be stopped at the border?” Cho said. “If they immigrated today, would they find the same success? Would I have been dealt the same hand? Would a future me be standing here?”

During the subsequent commission meeting, public comment was dominated by environmentalists opposed to the Port’s plans to turn the north end of Terminal 46, near Pioneer Square, into a cruise-ship terminal. Docked cruise ships can emit as much diesel exhaust as 34,400 idling tractor-trailers, according to a report validated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Those emissions have grave implications for climate change.

Even a Commission staffer interrupted her “regularly scheduled programming” — introducing a motion on the Port’s biometrics policy — to express concern about wildfires raging across Australia. Scientists say climate change has exacerbated the fires.

The staffer, Veronica Valdez, told the Commission that Sydney is her home. But when she goes back in April, “I may not be going back to the same place I left.”

Plenty of hubbub for Cho’s first day on the job. His readout? “It was great.”