Friday, March 7, 2008
SJMN on 03-06-2008: Focus turns to recalling Nguyen
Above: Click photo to enlarge San Jose City Councilmembers Sam Liccardo, left, and Madison... (Nhat V. Meyer / Mercury News)
Focus turns to recalling Nguyen
By Joshua Molina
Article Launched: 03/06/2008 01:33:14 AM PST
Just hours after the San Jose City Council early Wednesday rejected "Little Saigon" for the second time, activists turned their focus to recalling Councilwoman Madison Nguyen, and hunger striker Ly Tong vowed to starve himself until he dies.
The council voted unanimously early Wednesday morning to rescind its Nov. 20 vote to call a Vietnamese retail area "Saigon Business District." But despite the pleas of thousands of people, council members rejected a proposal to call the strip "Little Saigon."
Instead, by a 7-4 vote, they decided to set up a new process for naming business districts. After a controversy that has paralyzed the city for months, the council essentially wiped the slate clean.
Now, if the Story Road area is ever called "Little Saigon," it will be because merchants and residents there - not city officials - take the lead.
Councilman Sam Liccardo said the council's vote was the best way out of a situation where members obviously "goofed."
"We are back to square one," he said. "This is far from ideal. The best situation would be if we were done debating this issue. We need to be able to return our focus to running this city."
The council's vote set no time frame for creating a new process. City staff will try to work one out in coming months.
The council's action infuriated "Little Saigon" advocates, who packed City Hall by the hundreds Tuesday night and spilled over into the surrounding plaza.
"The recall process might shift into high gear now," said Barry Hung Do, spokesman for San Jose Voters for Democracy, the main group pushing for the "Little Saigon" name. "The recall will be managed by a new team of residents who mostly live in District 7," which Nguyen represents.
Do said his group will continue to press the council to adopt the name; they plan to meet this week to sharpen their strategy. For now, they are unsure whether they will continue their weekly "Black Tuesday" protests.
The group has alleged that Nguyen, the only Vietnamese-American on the council, tried to cut a back-room deal to name the area "Vietnam Town Business District," which was favored by a wealthy developer. The protesters insist Nguyen has a bias against "Little Saigon" and has abused her power on the council to block the name. Nguyen disputes the characterization.
Just before the council's 1:30 a.m. vote, Nguyen expressed her regret "that what was meant to be an economic development project has turned into a stream of political upheaval." To the Little Saigon activists, she said, "I sincerely ask that you join me and bring peace back to the community and to City Hall."
Nguyen did not return calls for additional comment Wednesday afternoon.
She and Mayor Chuck Reed have led the charge against the name "Little Saigon," citing opposition from what they say is a silent majority of residents and business owners. Nearly 800 Vietnamese residents have signed a petition decrying the group pushing for the name, and nearly 100 business owners in the area presented a similar petition to the council Tuesday.
But "Little Saigon" supporters presented a new petition Tuesday that they said included 4,000 signatures, and the nearly 400 speakers at the meeting were overwhelmingly in favor of the name.
Hunger striker Tong, who said he stopped eating Feb. 15, vowed that the council's vote against "Little Saigon" has only empowered him to continue.
"Mayor Chuck Reed and Madison will be the cause of my death," he said.
While speculation has swirled that Tong may in fact be eating - a theory boosted after he energetically addressed the council at Tuesday's meeting before being escorted away by city staff - he insisted he's consumed nothing but bottled water.
"The scale doesn't lie," the 63-year-old said. "If I am not on a hunger strike, how can I lose 30 pounds?"
Tong, whose anti-communist activism is legendary in Vietnamese circles, claims he has survived as long as 2 1/2 months without eating in the past before falling into a coma. He predicts the same will happen in this case.
"They only pay attention when you go into a coma," he said, adding that he expects President Bush and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to get involved at some point.
At a press conference Wednesday, Reed showed little sympathy. "Ly Tong is an adult," the mayor said. "I refuse to take responsibility for his actions."
Contact Joshua Molina at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 275-2002
Posted by SaiGon at 1:30 AM