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Seoul mayor keeps mum over political future

Oh and city council clash over school meals during first meeting in six months


City council members Tuesday fired questions at Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, who appeared at the council’s plenary meeting after a six-month hiatus.

The political path of Oh, who is considered a potential presidential candidate for the Grand National Party, in particular drew keen interest.

“Your political future can affect your management of city affairs, causing a stir among public servants. You should be clear about this,” said Park June-hee, a member from the main opposition Democratic Party.

Oh, however, avoided giving an immediate answer, saying “I’m devoted to the mayor job. I also think I need to talk about this at the right time. You will see later.”

The mayor and members of the DP-dominated city council clashed again over the controversial school meal ordinance, which is to be voted on in August by citizens. It would be the city’s first plebiscite vote.

Kim Jong-wook, a DP member, demanded the mayor’s apology, saying “DP members approved the ordinance following the legal process. But you filed a petition against it and refused to appear in the council.”

He also denounced the mayor for controlling the whole process of the plebiscite vote, which will require a city budget of 18.2 billion won.

“When I was watching the ordinance passed by the power of a majority, I thought there would be no dialog and consensus if all the issues are handled through a majority rule in the coming three years,” Oh said.

“I expressed my resistance to it as a weaker side.”

They also clashed over the expression to be written on the ballot paper regarding the free school meals. After disagreement over the words “full” or “phrasal” adoption of the measure, they agreed to seek a neutral word.

Meanwhile, another welfare issue for senior citizens was expected to reignite the war of nerves between the mayor and the city council.

The DP members have pushed for universal coverage for the city’s welfare programs such as free lunches for all elementary school students, while the mayor has emphasized a selective welfare policy prioritizing more vulnerable groups.

On Tuesday, a group of 24 DP council members submitted a welfare ordinance for elderly people, which would require the city to provide rental houses to senior citizens aged 65 or older and partially cover the management expenses and rental fees depending on income.

The bill also offers incentives to companies engaging in housing construction or other related projects.

Also under the ordinance, the city would fund medical checkups for the elderly.

In a statement, city councilors said: “Welfare policy for senior citizens should apply to all elderly people. Supporting elderly citizens is a social responsibility. The city should not shift the responsibility to individual families.

“Respect for elderly people is a social consensus about which the city can work together with the council. But it should not be used politically without considering the city’s finances,” said Lee Jong-hyun, a spokesperson for the city.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)
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