Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Political Connection (Part II of III)

Every politician who lives in District 4, District 7 and District 8 knows that the Vietnamese-Americans made up 20% or more of the registered voters. City wide, they are about 10% of the total voters. In District 7 where the besieged Councilwoman Madison Nguyen resides, there are over 10,000 registered voters. This represents 34% of the district.

San Jose, a city composed of 1/3 Asians, 1/3 Hispanics and 1/3 Whites, the Vietnamese-Americans are the most sought after voting bloc since they are a swing vote in most districts. In District 7, they can win an election outright by their sheer turnout. On the average, they have the highest turnout of any ethnic minority groups. When it comes to politics, nothing motivate them more than democracy and freedom issues relating to their homeland. Just like the Cuban-Americans who dominate and shape the political landscape of Miami and in general South Florida, one of the key issues in the Vietnamese-American community is where one stands on the communist government in Vietnam.

Their high turnout in the primary for Chuck Reed in the last mayoral race gave Reed the upset victory in the primary over the favorite - Cindy Chavez. And the rest is history. According to the people close to her, Chavez could never recover emotionally even now, more than 2 years after the election.

Reed nurtured the relationship with the community immediately after he won the council race in 2000 for he realized that this is a political force that would help propel his political career.

They have done ok for themselves politically considering it is a poor community. Most people labor in restaurants and in nail saloons. They work as assembly workers, housekeepers, janitors and low income menial work. Yet it was their political connection that persuade Governor Arnold S. to appoint a Democrat Jacqueline Duong to superior court judgeship. They have 4 school board trustees. Two were originally by appointment. Their political prowess at the national level showed in the fund raising events put forth for Hillary Clinton in 2008 by the lawyer Michael Luu. Not once but twice.

And their political maturity demonstrated clearly in the efforts with the Little Saigon. Behind the scene, they met up with Reed three times trying to persuade him for the name Little Saigon. Reed stood his ground by reiterating:" The silent majority in District 7 is not supporting the name Little Saigon." This was despite the fact that they gathered over 4,000 signatures asking for the name Little Saigon and also the survey done by Madison Nguyen showed the majority wanted the name Little Saigon. Their delegation to city hall included Dennis Fong, the venerable Professor Nguyen xuan Vinh and other prominent members of the mainstream.

They met up with councilmembers Forrest Williams, Pete Constant, Pierluigi Oliverio, Kansen Chu, Judy Chirco, Sam Liccardo and Dave Cortese trying to lobby for the Little Saigon. They submitted 4,000 signatures to each of them. At first, Williams, Liccardo, Oliverio, Constant and Cortese promised them they would listen to the wish of the majority and also to the outcome of the survey done by Madison Nguyen's office. In the end, only Chu, Constant and Oliverio kept their promises to support Little Saigon.

The three councilmembers who refused to meet up with them were Madison Nguyen, Nancy Pyle and Nora Campos. The irony of course is both Nguyen and Campos will need the community support to have any chance in advancing their political career.

The refusal by the city council on granting a name that the majority wanted is still a puzzlement. It brought fervor against the council and humilation to Reed. It was a humble sight to see Reed receving lecture from Ly Tong as he came down from the 18th floor in person to a makeshift tent to ask the local activist to stop the hunger strike. Unlike San Jose, San Francisco leaders took a different stand, they not only allowed the Little Saigon to be an official tourist designation but also funded the construction of the gate

In the end, with thousands of people demonstrating (not once but 3 times) without a broken window or a single incident of violence, the city council finally gave in but only with a real threat of a civil rights lawsuit.

Even though they have advanced themselves politically with their voting strength in the last 10 years, they have still not fully realized their ultimate prize. But that will come as their children are about to take over the mantle. And the first time for a very long time, the 1.5 x generation of the community is taking charge and uniting the community more than ever before.

From outside looking in, people are wondering why the intra-ethnic spat, why destroying one of your own in the recall of Madison Nguyen. But to the keen eye, it shows a great confidence and sophistication in the community. They will elect their representatives not because of who they are, but because of what they are. To them, it could be an ethical White, an ethical Hispanic, an ethical Vietnamese-American replacing Nguyen but for Nguyen to be in power and representing the special interest groups of wealthy developers, lobbyists and kingmakers of labor unions (As showed in Nguyen's Form 460 and reported by Mercury News) is to be against all that they have worked so hard and sacrificed for - freedom and democracy.

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Unofficial Election Results

 San Jose City Council, D7   Precincts Reporting:  100% Tam Nguyen                        31.85%       2,275  Maya Esparza             ...