Case Against Little Saigon
the 2004 city council race for District 7, the two front running candidates
realized the importance of the Vietnamese American swing vote. There
were promises to the Vietnamese-American community leaders of the possibility
of naming a Vietnamese business area Little Saigon. The community had
been trying for years to have a business area designated Little Saigon
in District 7. When the then Councilmember Terry Gregory left office
in 2005, Madison Nguyen and Linda Nguyen in their race to replace him
also made this a campaign issue.
Last month, Councilmember Madison Nguyen made this a reality with the
city council approved the name Saigon Business District for a one mile
strip on Story Road, west of Highway 101. Yet afterward, Madison Nguyen
finds herself in a political backlash with discussion of a recall. Her
supporters dismiss this as an empty threat by a vocal minority group
in the community. Most city council members think this is nonsense and
will fizzle out. Behind the scene, the very powerful and influential
lobbyist and consultant for Mayor Chuck Reed, Vic Aljouny, made his
returned to the San Jose politics and started calling mainstream media
and leaders to gather support for Madison Nguyen. The Mercury News ran
three articles within two weeks stating the recall is uncalled for and
that a dedicated and honest politician like Madison Nguyen “should not
be recalled but cloned.”
So what is the political reality of this unfortunate political episode
for the Vietnamese-American community and can the community reconcile?
As reported in the Mercury News, over 2,000 people attended an open
public meeting on Sunday, Dec 9 at the GI Forum. This is the largest
crowd ever to be at a municipal political rally as noted by the Mercury
News. They sat for 4 hours listening and cheering loudly as community
and business leaders made cases against Madison Nguyen and the demand
for the name Little Saigon.
A well dressed Hispanic man came to the event and noted: “It
is ironic but a year ago, there was a huge banner in front of GI Forum
by some members of the Hispanic community that said Madison does not
represent District 7 and the Mexican American community.”
By coincidence, that same afternoon at the city hall, a Vietnamese-American
group that supported Madison Nguyen paid over $4,000 to rent the rotunda
for their coming out political event. Mayor Chuck Reed and Vic Aljouny
attended the occasion. There were about 75 people in attendance. They
talked about how they truly represented the community and expressed
their strong support for Madison Nguyen.
The Three Stories
To the mainstream public, the words of the former San Jose Mayor Tom
McEnery in his blog probably capture their best view – “While it is
difficult to understand why Madison Nguyen was so blind-sided by the
somewhat predictable events of the last few weeks (and the strong feelings
behind them), the council supported her down the line.”
However, within the Vietnamese-American community, there are three stories
well known. The second of three stories is reported here.
April of this year, 2 months before the council voted on the approval
of the naming of the proposed area on Story Road, Madison Nguyen requested
the city staff and Redevelopment Agency (RDA) to meet with the owner
of Vietnam Town Mall on Story Road . The Vietnam Town Mall project is
well known in the community for being delayed since the beginning of
the year. Their financial problems are detailed an investigative article
by the San Jose Business Journal in November by Sharon Simonson.
her own meeting with Jimmy Nguyen, Sonny Nguyen (her investment partner)
and Paul Krutko, San Jose City chief development officer to make a case
for naming the area, this was the only meeting that Madison Nguyen asked
the city staff as well as her own staff to meet with any members or
business owners of the community before the June vote.
was a high power meeting. In attendance were the deputy city manager,
Madison Nguyen’s chief of staff, director of project management, director
of neighborhood and business development, senior graphic designer and
marketing and communication manager. The owner of Vietnam Town Mall
(Tang Lap) had with him his two trusted aides who handled the finance
and marketing of the Vietnam Town Mall project. The meeting was about
the naming of the area. At the meeting, Tang Lap requested the naming
to be Vietnam Town Business District and he was willing to pay for the
maintenance of signs and banners.
city staff felt uneasy and told him that they would take his proposal
under advisement. At a follow-up meeting, the city staff told him that
they could not accept his offer for it could give the appearance of
allowing a private party to use public property to advertise or promote
In private though, Madison Nguyen gave him the signal that she would
arrange so that the area would
be named Vietnam Town Business District. With confidence, he ordered
the design of two granite signs with the chiseled words “Vietnam
Town Business District.” The granite signs design was made available
to the community by the company commissioned to do the work.
June 5, at the urging of Madison Nguyen, the city council approved the
Vietnamese naming of the proposed area. The community in the area in
general was not informed by this decision. Dennis King, the executive
director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, found out about the naming
of this area a month later by accident as he was talking to an executive
of the Wal-Mart store on Story Road .
the rumor mill, the Vietnamese-American community heard about the naming
of the area. Tien Nguyen, the president of the Vietnamese-American Community
of Northern California, asked her what the vote was about. She told
him that the council had approved the naming of the area as Vietnam
Town Business District.
He asked her again for clarification and mentioned the fact why not
Little Saigon but Vietnam Town Business District. She replied that it
was too late and the community never spoke up. He was stunned since
the issue of this important to the community and Madison Nguyen never
bothered to inform the community.
The Vietnamese-American press began to questions Madison Nguyen publicly
and forced her to call a community meeting in August. At the end of
the meeting, the packed crowd began to chant: “Down with Madison ”,
“ Madison is a liar” for they felt she had insulted them with condescending
comments and her hidden agendas.
Circle the Wagon
the Sunday rally at the GI Forum, Mayor Chuck Reed went on a radio show
to defend Madison Nguyen and her decision. Some callers called in and
asked if there were hidden agendas and dealing behind the scenes.
Some city council members are talking about a compromise of calling
it “Little Saigon Business District”. In the Green Room, some council
members approached the mayor for the possibility of a compromise. He
rejected and stood his ground.
In private, the city council members know that a polarizing politician
would never last and they feel sympathetic to her predicament. They
also realize that there are more to the story then told to them by Madison
Madison Nguyen was irritated when the Mercury News called her at her
home about the Sunday rally. She told them:” You will see, I will serve
out the remainder of my three years.” Her chief of staff, coming from
a Hmong community in Minnesota and having dealt with various controversies
before with Hmong elected officials, assures her that they have enough
support from the community. The community will tear each other apart
and all of these will become nothing more than noises she told her.
To Madison Nguyen, these people are do nothing people with no jobs and
extremists. She wishes she had not said so in public and on recorded
TV but what done was done. But what bothers her most is the realization
that some of her closest supporters are deserting her and now she can
only trust a few people for information even leaks out from her inner
A Community Reconcile?
In the rotunda, Vic Aljouny met up with Lan Nguyen, a candidate for
District 8 city council to replace the Vice Mayor Dave Cortese, and
chatted about the up coming campaign. Lan Nguyen opposed Little Saigon
(It was reported wrongly that he changed his mind) along with his backer,
Dr. Ngai Nguyen. He and Madison Nguyen never like each other until now.
Madison feels he is a wheeler dealer and is a threat to her for they
both share the same group of financial supporters.
Over at the GI Forum, Cam Van, another candidate for District 8 city
council, made an announcement that she was misled by one of the organizers
of the event at the rotunda and she had dropped him from her campaign.
The political process is now in motion and steps are taken that cannot
be withdrawn. Within the general community, the sentiment is that that
they have been misled and insulted by the Madison Nguyen and her special
interest groups. On the other side, her supporters feel this is a great
of opportunity to bring down Tien Nguyen and his anti-communist group
who had changed their support for her after the election in 2005.
Whatever the outcome may be it will no doubt change the political paradigm
of San Jose politics in general. The Vietnamese-American community came
to this country as refugee out of the consequences of the political
struggles between world superpowers. They were merely a pawn in the
Cold War. Now they have to confront a polarizing political will that
would either unite or destroy the community. And the issue is not the
naming of Little Saigon anymore as the mainstream media and the city
council are depicting to the public. The issue to the Vietnamese-American
community, whether it is fair or not, is the ethical substance or lack
of by the once golden child of the community – City Councilmember Madison
John Vu until recently was a Policy Analyst for San Jose City Council.