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Madison Nguyen:  Her Controversies  and  the Story Behind  Saigon Business District

Why The Public Outcries ?

In 2005, Madison made 2 promises during her campaign to replace Gregory after his resignation over corruption charges (1) creation of the Vietnamese American Community Center (VACC); (2) to complete the work that the community has put in toward the designation of a business area similar to Little Saigon districts in other cities.

Given that these promises were made as part of her campaign, Madison does understand the significance of the matter. Madison made these promises after it was discovered that she attempted to delay the vote of an important issue for the Vietnamese community.


In 2006, the City Council approved $2.8M for the VACC. Quietly, Councilmember Nguyen handed the project to a personally appointed Board of Directors, composed of Dr. Nguyen X. Ngai and a long list of real-estate developers who financed her campaign (not community activists!) These appointments to the Board of Directors were only made known to the community when she distributed an invitation to San Jose individuals, to a dinner to present them.

Who is Councilmember Nguyen serving? The residents of District 7 or ONLY special interest groups? According to Madison, the board members promised to pay to sit on the board.


March 2007: Madison arranged for a meeting between Pat Dando, Paul Krutko, Sonny Nguyen (her campaign treasurer), Jim Nguyen to promote the 1-mile strip on Story Road as “Vietnam Town Business District”.
April 2007:
Madison Nguyen requested city staff and the Redevelopment Agency (RDA) to meet with the owner of Vietnam Town Mall on Story Road. The meeting was attended by many of RDA’s directors (Richard Keit, Director, Neighborhood and Business Development, Bill Ekern, Director, Project Management), Ed Shikada, Deputy City Manager, Paul Asper, City Senior Graphic Designer, Nguyen’s chief of staff, the owner of Vietnam Town Mall (Lap Tang) with his two trusted financial and marketing aides (Chad Nguyen and Albert Liu). At the meeting, Tang Lap requested that the name be Vietnam Town Business District and he was willing to pay for the maintenance of signs and banners.


Councilmember Nguyen brought together this high power meeting to promote the name “Vietnam Town Business District.”
This developer was the ONLY business owner or individual of any type with whom Councilmember Nguyen requested any meeting with the RDA regarding this project.
All these meetings were done in closed doors.

RDA rejected Mr. Tang’s offer because it could give the appearance of a private party using City property to advertise his business. Who has higher ethical principles and practices, Councilmember Nguyen or the RDA?


June 5, 2007: the San Jose City Council approved the name Vietnamese Business District (VBD) for the project. Besides the owner of the Vietnam Town mall, there were only two other Vietnamese at the city council meeting (they spoke in favor of the project); the rest of the community was NOT aware of this project at all. When asked shortly after the meeting by the president of San Jose's Vietnamese community, she stated that the name VBD was “final”, since the Community hadn't spoken up earlier, and there was NOTHING they would be able to do about it (see the May 10 memo, the name was capitalized as “Vietnamese Business District”, not as a generic term)

This was Councilmember Nguyen’s first attempt to impose a name for this District upon the community and upon her constituents.

Similar to the VACC project, with Councilmember Nguyen the community always has to learn everything after the facts.

Under scrutiny for her close relationship with the developer of Vietnam Town and her the apparent questionable motive for naming an entire business district to benefit a few developers, Madison changed the proposed name to Vietnamese Business District.
Councilmember Nguyen spoke of this project as an important milestone for the Vietnamese Community, “a time to celebrate”; why didn’t she inform any of them of it and ask them to come out to show their support for the project and of her accomplishment on it? Three people on June 5, vs. 1,000+ people on Nov. 20, is something that can not be dismissed, what did Councilmember Nguyen try to hide at this City Council vote? Could it be that Councilmember Nguyen was very much aware that the community would reject this “Vietnamese Business District” name which would be easily shortened by common usage to Vietnam Town?

August 15, 2007: San Jose’s Redevelopment Agency (RDA) organized the legislatively-mandated community meeting at the Tully Library community room. More than 100 Vietnamese-Americans showed up, the vast majority wanting the area to be named Little Saigon (LS).

At that time, the LS Petition had more than one thousand signatures. At the end of the meeting, she dropped a bombshell, first condescendingly informing the attendees, “Now, even if all of you, let’s say a hundred percent of you including myself, like the name Little Saigon. Right? But since we don’t live there, we live about three or four miles down, our input is not going to make that much of a difference”, [view Video] and then demanded a survey of the merchants and residents within a 1000-ft radius, the survey about which she said, “those people are going to give us the name. Whoever guy come up with the most votes, that’s what the city council is going to take into consideration. It’s the most fairest way on how we’re going to achieve this resolution.” (This is the promise she broke, as clearly pointed out by Councilmember Constant during the council discussion on November 20.)

This meeting was billed as “for banner and gateway design”, with no mention of the naming issue (see flyer) This futher confirmed that VBD was the final chosen name, if the community had not taken up the issue. This survey (regarding the name) is the first such survey done in the history of San Jose. It was not mandated by the City’s procedures or regulations. Councilmember Nguyen was trying to hide behind this survey – with four variations of names containing “Saigon”, it was clearly intended to confuse the stakeholders and split the vote. Councilmember Nguyen lectured the community at this meeting on the “freedom of speech” and “fairness”, and yet when the survey didn’t give the result she wanted, she just threw it away. Clearly, to Councilmember Nguyen, a process is not useful unless it serves one’s hidden agenda. Shouldn’t elected officials be held responsible for their promises ?

September 23, 2007: the Committee for Little Saigon held a rally at Yerba Buena High School which drew 500 attendees, inviting all councilmembers, particularly Councilmember Nguyen, to come to listen to their constituents. Councilmember Nguyen didn’t come because she was too busy attending the 20-year wedding anniversary of  Mr. Tran Anh, who was the first person to sign the New Saigon (NS) petition, as president of Quang Ngai Friendship Association, claiming to represent this organization despite never having actually consulted with the members of this association on this issue.

Why has Councilmember Nguyen refused over and over to meet with her constituents? More than a half-dozen times, the Committee for Little Saigon tried but failed to make appointments to speak with her.
Councilmember Nguyen claims that she is impartial, not favoring any one group, yet her actions are hardly impartial at all ! How closed is Councilmember Nguyen to the New Saigon endorsers?

October 10, 2007: the RDA organized a second community meeting, and revealed RDA’s survey result: Little Saigon (37.6%), New Saigon Business District (6.8%), Saigon Business District (SBD) (5.1%.) Little Saigon supporters filled the meeting room.

LS:NS is more than 6:1 and LS: SBD is more than 7:1. How can she call that a compromise ? It was brought up and soundly rejected by the people; how can she refer to it as a “new naming option”?

Nov. 15, 2007: Councilmember Madison Nguyen, flanked by Mayor Reed, Vice Mayor Cortese, and Councilmembers Liccardo, Chirco in a press conference, announced her new choice for the name: Saigon Business District (the one that came in LAST place in the city’s survey.) She claimed this to be a compromise (between the faction that wants “Little Saigon” and the faction that wants “New Saigon”) to avoid a community division over the name. Councilmember Nguyen's argument of the community division is faulty. The faction (as she attempted to make it out as a large portion of the community) claimed as supporting “New Saigon” did not actually exist. Many letters were sent to the City Council regarding this matter; many were rectification letters written by individuals who were tricked into signing their names to the document claimed by Councilmember Nguyen to show the support of fifteen community organizations and who, upon realizing this, later rejected Councilmember Nguyen’s naming choice and endorsed the name "Little Saigon"; several of these letters were written by actual members of these associations stating that the chairmen who signed the petition did not consult with their members on this question. More than half of Councilmember Nguyen’s claimed fifteen supporting organizations – actually only individuals, typically not representing their claimed organizations – have since publicly retracted their support for her naming choice, as Councilmember Nguyen has known for some time despite continuing to falsely claim these fifteen organizations’ support well after she was made aware of many of these retractions. (See the New Saigon petitioners’ list)


This was NOT a compromise, this is Councilmember Nguyen’s second attempt to impose a name for this district upon the San Jose constituency. A genuine compromise would start with a DIALOGUE between the different factions involved, not among the councilmembers who were misled by her. For a long time, the Committee for LS tried in vain to make an appointment to speak with Councilmember Nguyen about this issue, only to be rebuffed each and every time.

This so-called compromise was kept a SECRET from the San Jose community and from city hall staff until the very last minute at this press conference. Is this how open government should work, hiding secrets from its constituents (including things that seem as trivial as a name such as this)?
Councilmember Nguyen continues to attempt to hide the existence of these letters retracting support she claims for her naming choice from the public; Councilmember Nguyen did not acknowledge their existence at the Nov. 20 meeting nor has she ever acknowledged them before or since.

Nov. 20, 2007: More than 1,000 Little Saigon supporters showed up at the City Hall with 200+ people speaking in support of the name Little Saigon. Councilmember Nguyen’s imposed name (SBD) was passed on an 8-3 vote. Three councilmembers opposed her motion: Councilmembers Constant, Chu, and Oliverio clearly pointed out the illegitimacy of her proposal with supporting data. Other councilmembers who supported her could only use the excuse that she is “Your Elected Official,” so we are siding with her because she knows what’s best!


A City Council meeting is only a place where the “mini-mayor” system can play out, a place to legitimize the wrong-doing of a Councilmember.



Nov. 21, 2007: Councilmember Nguyen went on Vietnamese television and insinuated the Nov 20th meetings attendees as jobless individuals who had some “interests” and some “free time” to spend.



Is this what representative government means? Is this what “encouraging citizens' participation in government issues” means?
Can councilmember Nguyen effectively represent the voices of her concerned constituents when in her mind, they are just bunch of jobless people?

Dec. 9, 2007: A general community meeting was organized at the Unified Event Center, with more than 2,000 in attendance. Over a number of years, countless attempts from the community to ask for better, fair and transparent representation from Councilmember Nguyen all met with failure and negativism from her, which further damaged any mutual relationship between the San Jose community and herself. Because of this, it was resolved that Councilmember Nguyen is to be asked to resign from her City Council seat, because her constituents have, after many attempts to work with her were repeatedly rebuffed, completely lost all confidence and trust in her performance as an elected representative, and if she does not resign, the community will lauch a recall campaign against her.

                                 © 2008 San Jose Voters for Democracy. All rights reserved. FPPC# 1302736. Phong Trào Cử Tri San Jose Đòi Dân Chủ.