CITY HALL — A simple trip abroad once again turned into a head-of-state affair for Mayor Ara Najarian, who during a weeklong visit to Glendale's Korean sister city was courted by both frontrunners in the nation's upcoming presidential election.
His scheduled itinerary for the official trip to Goseong, one of Glendale's six sister cities, had included meetings with a range of local government officials, as well as visits to other cities in the region in order to enhance relations and learn more about the culture.
"It turned into something much larger," said Najarian, who returned Friday. "It was really raised to the international level."
Once he arrived, a member of the Korean parliament arranged for Najarian to meet with Geun-hy Park, a fellow member of parliament and current frontrunner for the 2012 presidential election.
"We spoke about closer ties between not just our sister cities but between the United States and Korea," he said. "She was very receptive."
Within hours of the meeting, Najarian had been invited to see her opponent, Moon-Soo Kim, governor of Gyeonggi Province, who is planning an October trip to Glendale, Najarian said.
It was Najarian's second trip this summer to snowball into a diplomatic visit.
During a personal trip to Armenia in June, Najarian's itinerary grew to include meetings with a slew of high-ranking government officials and dignitaries, including President Serzh Sargsyan and Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan.
During his trip to Korea, Najarian was accompanied by Planning Commissioner Chang Lee, who acted as an interpreter and helped arrange many of the meetings, which spanned into the night.
"It was a very demanding schedule," Lee said. "The mayor played a good ambassador role."
Najarian said he was surprised by the immense attention to his visit, but attributed it to Glendale's large Korean population.
"In the next election, Koreans living outside of Korea are going to be able to cast a vote," he said. "The last election was extremely close. I guess they are starting their campaigning early."
Najarian's official trip was paid for by the Goseong government, which extended an invitation for his visit. Several meetings focused on Goseong's plans to develop an exchange program with Glendale Community College, he said.
He also visited the city of Gimpo, which has indicated interest in becoming another sister city to Glendale.