Monday, May 5, 2008

John Vu: To Recall or Not Recall Madison Nguyen?

To Recall or Not Recall Madison Nguyen?

John Vu

The wheel is in motion with the recall intention submitted by a group of Vietnamese-Americans belonging to a so called generation 1.5x. This is a generation that grew up in the US and carries neither memories nor the baggage of the Vietnam War. This is a stark contrast to the Little Saigon movement that was spearheaded by a much older generation of men and women who left Vietnam as refugees looking for freedom and a better future for their children.

I wrote an article at the beginning of the struggle for Little Saigon questioning the logic and concerning about undesired consequences of the recall promoting by the San Jose Voters for Democracy.

What at stakes will forever change the political paradigm of the Vietnamese-American community in San Jose . And if the recall is successful, it will also mark a new political chapter in San Jose city itself.

The Sentiment

Except for a group of Nguyen's supporters whom already has been discredited for their political ploy, there is no doubt in the Vietnamese-American community why councilmember Madison Nguyen has to be recalled. To the community, their single minded action is to remove an elected official who lied to protect her quid pro quo favor to a special interest group and who purportedly divided the community with her political tactics. Whether they can gather enough signatures is remained to be seen.

The group website lists a historical backdrop of the long simmering conflict between Nguyen and the community at large. Even though the barrage of accusation is overstated and overboard, there seems to be a powerful sentiment that she has not lived up to the ethical standard expected of an elected official.


From the community's perspective, the community leaders were lied to by Nguyen when asked about the naming. She told them it was a done deal and that the name chosen by the council was Vietnam Town Business District. She lied to the Mercury News when asked whether she had supported the naming of the area as Vietnam Town Business District ('Councilwoman Nguyen in the middle of Saigon debate", August 22, 2007). Subsequently, she also lied to a KQED reporter when she denied her involvement of naming the area Vietnam Town Business District.

Records obtained through Freedom of Information Act showed that in early 2007, she secretly agreed to name the area Vietnam Town Business District at the behest of the Tang Lap, the wealthy developer who was also her biggest financial supporter.

According to Nguyen, the whole ordeal of naming the area not Little Saigon but Vietnam Town Business District from the beginning was well aware by Mayor Chuck Reed. The mayor's staff including his senior person on economic development was involved in the process of naming the area Vietnam Town Business District. E-mail obtained thru RDA showed that Tang Lap worked with Nguyen directly as well as with city deputy manager, RDA senior directors and even an RDA senior graphic designer. And per Nguyen again even though and agreement was reached with Tang Lap, the deal was stopped by the city attorney and RDA when Tang Lap offered to pay for the cost of the monument and banners. From her perspective, it was a moot point since the deal was terminated by the city attorney for fear of ethic violation.

The Brown Act & Perception

There are many turning points of Little Saigon but the defining one has to be with councilman Forrest Williams explaining how Nguyen asked him for his support.

Any San Jose politician lived through the scandalous Gonzales administration knows that the threshold for Brown Act violation is very low. It was designed to prevent backdoor dealing by elected officials before a public outcome.

The stunning disclose on television forced the council to rescind their previous vote against Little Saigon. This of course fueled more anger and now a complete distrust of Nguyen and her office. It did not help when her ardent supporter, Henry Lee, caused an uproar by forged a list of signatures of people and claimed it to be of business people against Little Saigon.

Widely circulated in the community is the perception of Nguyen violating ethic rules of unbecoming an elected official with her backdoor dealing and her Brown Act violation. Also there are now rumors of her accepting gifts and donations without properly reporting it in the past two years. Unless there is concrete evidence, it is clearly a political ploy by the community to bring back the specter of Terry Gregory who was forced to step down by knowingly accepting a case of expensive wine.


The political reality is that Nguyen's reputation has been damaged by her ethics and her divisiveness. The realpolitik of the recall is whether she possesses the ethics required to hold office.

Unlike the generation of their parents, the recall group is made up of professional people who grew up and educated in the US . In the past, they mostly stood by the parents and the older generation in silent and rarely expressed their opinions mainly because they did not have a cause of their own. Now, as they become successful and themselves doting with young children, they have found a political cause that will likely mark their generation's political coming-out. This generation is less-burden by the anti-communist politics and their views are mainstream and practical. Their expectation of local political leaders is to be ethical and representing the people and not special interest groups.

The recall will no doubt either unite or divide the community. There will be people like Henry Le on both sides of the issue with their deceptive tactics to create further turmoils and false impressions. At the end of the day, despite all the posturing and rhetoric of the supporters of Nguyen and those opposed her, the recall effort will be determined by the silent majority. This is the majority that Nguyen and Reed often referred to in their argument against Little Saigon.

More than a decade ago, a councilmember was recalled from office just because of her behavior. Nguyen when proposed to have the Little Saigon on ballot for a public vote said:" Many people believe in democracy and so this is democracy at its best". Nguyen deserves to have the same opportunity to clear her reputation and justify herself by allowing the silent majority to speak.