With a background as an educator and activist, Kristin Mink can now add the title of history maker to her background as Montgomery County’s first Asian councilmember.
Mink, 37, a Democrat and former teacher from the Four Corners area of Silver Spring was elected to represent the newly created District 5. Mink defeated Republican Kate Woody, 73, of Fairland by over 60% of the votes in the Nov. 8 general election.
Mink became widely known due to a viral video confronting former Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, in a Washington, D.C. restaurant with her two-year-old in tow in 2018. Throughout her campaign, Mink’s focus was community, impacting marginalized groups and understanding the needs of the people in the community.
“I want folks to feel like I am accessible, to know that I value their voices and to be able to know that I want them to really know and understand that this seat is for them as well,” she said.
Mink works as a senior legislative organizer for the Center for Popular Democracy, a nonprofit headquartered out of New York, that supports and coordinates progressive community organizing groups nationally, according to the center’s website.
Mink said she didn’t realize she would be the first Asian councilmember during her campaign until someone else pointed it out to her.
“I went back into the council history and checked in with folks to make sure that it was really true and that’s the moment that it really hit me,” she said. “I was like ‘oh my gosh, we could be about to make history in this way.’ I was shocked to find out that we never had an Asian person on the Montgomery County Council because we have, of course, so many Asian Americans who live in our county.”
Asian residents make up 16% of Montgomery County’s population, according to the 2021 Census.
Mink said being the first Asian on the County Council was also significant as a first-generation Chinese American.
“Talking to my mom who’s a Chinese immigrant, I don’t think that she ever foresaw her daughter getting into politics,” she said. “So, to be able to tell her that her daughter is going to be the first Asian to sit on the County Council in the community where she decided to raise me that was an impactful moment as well.”
Mink’s parents are both retired now but her mother worked as a math aide for Montgomery County Public School and her father was an economist for the Department of Justice.
Mink said that the importance of her taking on this position was something she realized during this COVID-19 pandemic.
“Knowing that none of the Asian kids who have been growing up in Montgomery County has ever been able to see another Asian person on their County Council, I think it’s important that we changed that,” she said. “When we saw the rash of hate against Asians beginning during COVID, I saw that we had council members who were going around and speaking to Asian community groups and they were saying ‘I’m sorry that this is happening to you and your community.’ The council did not have anyone they could send that could say ‘I’m sorry this is happening to us.’ That’s a moment that really highlighted the importance of my representation.”
Although her seat represents District 5, Mink said she wanted to ensure to build connections with those throughout the county.
“My hope and my intention is to work closely with, of course, all of the many organizations and community groups that we have across my district and across the county but also to make sure that I’m closely connected to the Asian community and that they feel connected to the seat whether they’re in my district or not,” she said. “They deserve to have that connection; they haven’t had that opportunity before.”
According to Mink, District 5 has been impacted by numerous equity issues including “inequitable investments” in the district’s schools.
“We need to make sure that the community is actually getting what they need and deserve,” she said. “I really look forward to using my office as a platform for lifting those voices, for amplifying those voices [and] ensuring that there’s always going to be someone in the room who’s going to say, ‘this cannot be delayed, and we need to make sure that these communities get what they have been promised and what they need and what they deserve.’”
Mink campaigned on improving issues such as aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the difficulties workers and small businesses have faced, eviction spikes, education and survivors of the virus with pre-existing conditions.
The top issue Mink said needs to be addressed immediately is rent stabilization.
“We had some temporary rent stabilization bills that passed over the past few years prompted by the COVID pandemic and eviction crisis, which increased as a result of the pandemic,” she said. “However, those were temporary, and the current council allowed the second [rent stabilization bill] to expire so what we’re seeing now is folks whose landlords were waiting for that expiration, and because it didn’t get extended. Now, people are seeing enormous rent increases.”
Mink has become a voice well-known by Montgomery County residents as an advocate for social, racial, economic and climate justice.
“My intention has always been to bring activism, to bring organizing into [this position]and to gain a better platform for it,” Mink said.
Mink has also advocated for members of the LGBTQ community in Montgomery County. She has helped organize counter protests at Drag Story Hour events in the county in connection with organizations such as MoCo Pride and Trans Maryland.
“I’ve worked with Kristin through our planning of the Parasol Patrol presence for Drag Story Hour (formerly Drag Queen Story Hour),” said Morgan Merriman, a MoCo Pride board member. “She has been essential in organizing these events and creating lively and loving spaces that highlight protecting children from encountering hateful protestors. She has used her platform to amplify this message and is a true champion for the LGBTQ+ community in MoCo.”
The Parasol Patrol is a group that uses actual parasols and umbrellas to shield children at Drag Story Hours from protestors who shout hateful comments at the events.
Mink said defending members of the LGBTQ community, especially members of the trans and nonbinary communities, is more important now than ever as anti-trans legislation and hate has increased in the country. The shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ nightclub, in Colorado that occurred in early November is just one recent example of increased hate towards the LGBTQ community.
“In the wake of the shooting in Colorado, it remains extremely clear that the trans community is under attack,” Mink said. “As we have seen here, that is even true in Montgomery County, Maryland. So now, more than ever, it’s important for us to maintain a sense of urgency on ensuring that the LGBTQ+ community is safe and protected here. It’s also extremely important that we all recognize that to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, at this point, requires more than acceptance. We need everyone to be proactively engaged in standing up for the LGBTQ+ community, and especially trans folks at this time.”
Lee Blinder, Trans Maryland’s founder and executive director and a MoCo native, characterized Mink as having a “really clear vision of the change that’s needed in Montgomery County.”
“I’m really excited to work with her in her new capacity on the council,” Blinder said. “She has been a very strong activist throughout her time within the public sphere.”
Mink also taught in Montgomery County Public Schools, an experience that she said would also benefit her as a council member.
“My educational background has absolutely been very helpful in talking to voters because a big part of education is making things accessible for your audience,” Mink said. “What we want to do for our voters is making sure that they have a clear understanding of what’s happening in local government.”
Stacey Albert, who previously worked with Mink at the former Lee Middle School, now Odessa Shannon Middle School in Silver Spring, said Mink’s goal-oriented approach as an educator will help in her leadership role.
“She is just very proactive. She has a goal and she just pulled stuff together to ger to the goal,” Albert said. “She is just a very kind, empathetic and courageous person. It’s the courage part that I really admire. She just wants something, and she goes for it. She’s a different breed of lady than the women that I grew up with, many had so much self-doubt that they talk themselves out of doing things.”