Thứ Ba, ngày 4 tháng 03 năm 2008 The Heights of Hypocrisy, Hubris, and Chutzpah
• Minh Q. Steven Dovan
4 N. Second Street, Suite 280
San Jose, CA USA 95113-1323
P.O. Box 90487
San Jose, CA USA 95109-3487
Dear San Jose City Councilmembers et al.,
I hope you have a chance to read this note before the city council meeting on Tuesday March-4-2008. Thank you. MQSD.
THE HEIGHTS OF HYPOCRISY, HUBRIS, AND CHUTZPAH
In order to understand the confusing issues surrounding the Little Saigon controversy, we must return to 2005 when Terry Gregory was still the councilman for San Jose District 7 (now occupied by Madison Nguyen). San Jose boasts as being the 11th largest city in the nation. It is also the city with the largest number of Vietnamese living anywhere outside of Vietnam, and its District 7 has the highest number of Vietnamese residents of any of the 10 Districts in this city.
Early on, Mr. Gregory worked with the Vietnamese community to establish an area in the 7th district to be named Little Saigon to honor and reflect the growth and success of the community. Little Saigon has been established in cities throughout the world where Vietnamese émigrés congregate after their Diaspora in 1975 when communist North Vietnam conquered and subjugated South Vietnam. The victors immediately excised and erased the name Saigon from the map and replaced it with the name Ho Chi Minh City. Thousands of former military members of South Vietnam and those associated with their American allies were tortured, killed, or languished in so called “re-education” camps. Hundreds of thousands also perished in their attempts by land and sea to escape the repressive regime to seek freedom. Little Saigon is an endearing name that conjures up warm and profound feelings that tug at the heartstrings of most Vietnamese living overseas. Unfortunately, before San Jose’s Little Saigon could become a reality, Terry Gregory resigned following his conviction for corruption.
Madison Nguyen ran for Gregory’s seat on a platform full of promises. She prided herself as a fighter of injustices and often spoke out about the press’s mischaracterization of the Vietnamese community. The people in District 7 at that time voted for her with the belief and hope that she will represent District 7 with fairness, honesty, and integrity. However Nguyen soon began to curry support and favor from special interest groups. For example, in early 2007 she began to discuss privately with Lap Tang the owner/developer of the Grand Century and Vietnam Town malls on Story Road for proposal of the name for the mile of corridor on Story Road between Senter Road and Freeway 101. Nguyen and Tang wanted the name Vietnam Town Business District as the official designation for this corridor. Tang even commissioned the gateway monuments with the name Vietnam Town Business District and promised to pay for the maintenance of the monuments and the banners in anticipation of its adoption by the city council. Nguyen was confident that the area would be officially called Vietnam Town Business District, so she asked the Redevelopment Agency (RDA) that “since Mr. Tang is willing to pay for most of the costs, is a public meeting still necessary to inform the public of this project?” (actual text from Nguyen’s April 5, 2007 e-mail to RDA). The RDA immediately responded that “It doesn’t matter who is doing this project, we (RDA) believe that the community should be informed early on in the project so that we can mitigate potential problems.” This RDA admonition to Nguyen turned out to be most prophetic. Had Nguyen’s and Tang’s proposal for the name Vietnam Town Business District been successful, Lap Tang would in essence have greatly benefited from the city’s designation because it would surely help to promote Tang’s Vietnam Town mall which was (and is still) being built next to his Grand Century Mall. Credit must be given to the RDA and the City Attorney which had turned down Nguyen’s proposal of the name Vietnam Town Business District because it clearly would have been inappropriate, unethical, and possibly illegal for such a name designation.
Only after RDA’s response to Nguyen (about the need to inform the community) on April 5, 2007 and the council’s direction on June 5, 2007 to conduct community outreach did Nguyen felt obligated to consult the community on the naming issue. Nevertheless Nguyen consistently avoided requests by community leaders to meet and discuss the naming issue until the first community meeting which took place on August 15, 2007 at the Tully library branch. Had there been no community meetings on this issue, Nguyen’s stealth proposal for the name Vietnam Town Business District would surely have been summarily approved by the council. At the August 15, 2007 meeting attended by about 150 community members, Nguyen told the attendees that “The people who are doing business on Story Road….who live within one thousand feet of this area will have the biggest input in regards to what the name will be. Now even if all of you let’s say 100% 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.” She further added “…the merchants and the people who live within the area, they will get to vote…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.” (actual audio and video recorded statements made by Nguyen at the meeting). It should be noted that at that meeting, the overwhelming majority of the attendees preferred the name “Little Saigon” for the proposed area. After the August 15, 2005 meeting, the RDA was directed to conduct a survey of the stakeholders within 1000 feet of the designated area for a proposed name. Thereafter, at the second (and last) public meeting on October 10, 2007, the survey’s results were announced which indicated the name “Little Saigon” was the top vote getter on a list of 6 proposed names, and it was chosen by a ratio of more than 7 to 1 over the name “Saigon Business District” (SBD) which had come in dead last. Incidentally the name Vietnam Town Business District which Nguyen and Tang had wanted for the area was never suggested by the community as a plausible choice, and therefore was not even included on the list of names provided in the RDA survey.
The overwhelming majority of the community preferred the name “Little Saigon.” This fact is evidenced by results in all the surveys conducted, by the attendees at all the community meetings, and in particular at the city council meeting on November 20, 2007 where more than 1000 community members appeared and supported this name.
Nevertheless the city council disregarded the will of the people and voted 8 to 3 for SBD the most unpopular name on the RDA survey. Nguyen claimed that this name was a compromise. The logic in Nguyen’s reasoning is totally incomprehensible. The infamous vote by the council was due in no small part to the orchestration behind the scenes by Nguyen. As the truth slowly surfaced, we found out that prior to the vote, Nguyen had lobbied other council members to obtain the needed votes to defeat the name Little Saigon. With her Vietnamese community, Nguyen had also fabricated the facts and misled her people in order to gain their support and falsely claimed that those people represented numerous community organizations when in fact they only signed in their individual capacities. Naturally people were very upset that she had exploited them and they sent in retraction letters and withdrew their support. Such letters apparently were suppressed by Nguyen. Recently council member Forrest Williams admitted on a TV interview that Nguyen had spoken with him prior to the vote and had asked for his support on this issue. This is a violation of California’s Brown Act open meeting statutes because with Williams’ commitment Nguyen had secured a majority before the council voted. Williams indicated he agreed to go with whatever name Nguyen wanted, and said that he will always defer to her because he believed she knows best her district. Mr. Williams made it very clear in the TV interview with this writer that his principle is always to defer to another council member’s decision when it involves an issue in another district; in so doing, Mr. Williams has basically abdicated his role to exercise any open mindedness or independence and became nothing more than a rubber stamp. However to his credit, Mr. Williams indicated that Madison Nguyen must accept the consequences of any bad decisions she may have made, and he also commented that the community has the prerogative to recall Nguyen if it so desires. Vice-Mayor David Cortese also recently changed his position and is now in full support of the name Little Saigon. Mr. Cortese indicated that he was misled by Madison Nguyen into voting for the unpopular name Saigon Business District. And despite some people’s speculation and suspicion that there were more ulterior than altruistic motives for his change of heart, Mr. Cortese should be commended for his fortitude to be contrite.
After the council’s vote on November 20, 2007, Mayor Chuck Reed and Madison Nguyen stubbornly held on to their unpopular decision despite an unusually high level of opposition from the Vietnamese community. This is exemplified by the consistently large rallies at noon every Tuesday at the City Hall since the November “Black Tuesday” vote, and the hunger strike the past two weeks by Ly Tong, a fervent Little Saigon supporter. Some might call these actions useless, foolish, and disruptive; others however call it democracy in action and the exercise of the First Amendment. But for many months, both Reed and Nguyen were adamant that their decision was correct, that the matter will never be revisited, and insisted that it’s time to move on. However, after revelations of the Brown Act violations surfaced along with other incriminating evidence relating to Nguyen’s deception and dishonesty, plus the Vice-Mayor’s change of mind, Reed and Nguyen in a span of less than two weeks suddenly launched two major memos. The first memo proposed a rescission of the previous unpopular vote for SBD, but included a recommendation to put the naming issue on the November 2008 general election for the entire city to decide. This proposal absolutely contradicts Nguyen’s earlier assertion that only the choice of the people within 1000 feet of Story Road would count. Furthermore, at a time when Reed is pleading for a reduction of spending and expenditures to counteract the city’s large deficit, he had the audacity to propose putting the issue to the entire city’s electorate; an act that according to the city clerk could conceivably cost as much as 2.68 million dollars of the taxpayers’ money. Reed’s and Nguyen’s strategy in placing this issue on the ballot for the entire city are threefold: First, it will distract and deflect focus on the Brown Act violations and on Reed’s and Nguyen’s deception and incompetence with the inherent ramifications on their political futures; second, it will guarantee the defeat of the name Little Saigon because the majority of the voters in the city (90% of the residents are not Vietnamese) do not have a good grasp of the facts revolving around this naming issue; and third, it will cause resentment toward the Little Saigon supporters which unfortunately will fan the xenophobic flames against a particular immigrant community, e.g. the Vietnamese-Americans; many of whom had previously been strong supporters of Reed and Nguyen when they ran for office, but who recently have become most active and expressive in their strident opposition to both because of this naming issue.
When their earlier memo backfired, Reed and Nguyen back pedaled again and submitted their latest memo recommending that after rescinding last November’s vote, the naming matter not be placed on the ballot. However, they also proposed to suspend the naming issue, which is tantamount to putting the issue in deep freeze and destined for oblivion.
It should however be noted that currently there are other memos submitted by council members Kansen Chu and Pete Constant, as well as by Vice-Mayor Dave Cortese which would quickly and fairly resolve this issue. These reasonable memos proposed that the council acknowledge the passion and affect Little Saigon has on the community, recognize the right choice, and adopt the results of the RDA survey. The council can then move on to more urgent issues.
One must wonder why Chuck Reed and Madison Nguyen have been so intransigent throughout this whole ordeal, which at first appeared relatively innocuous. There is speculation that Reed is ambitious and will do whatever necessary to make sure he nails down Nguyen’s vote to form a majority on the council for his agenda to succeed. And likewise Nguyen who at one time supported Reed’s opponent for mayor, now has ambitions to move up the totem pole starting with the Vice-Mayor title, and therefore needs to pander to special interest groups for support. Whatever their reasons or motives, clearly they have lost much political capital in this battle which should never have been waged in the first place. Even if per chance they were to be victorious in this battle, theirs will be a pyrrhic victory. Their choice of siding with special interests over community interests, and their arrogance of power have not served them well. Furthermore their inability or refusal to read the pulse of the community and their unwillingness to be flexible are liabilities and frailties that will only lead them down the path of eventual political suicide. The problem is further exacerbated by Reed’s and Nguyen’s derogatory characterizations of their detractors as nothing but a vocal minority and outsiders who have no respect for the rule of law. Nguyen has even alleged that demonstrators and participants at hearings have a lot of free time on their hands (implying they are jobless) and had been bused in from Southern California and trucked in from Sacramento to cause trouble. The fact of the matter is that at that emotional council meeting last November, there were present plenty of professionals as well as blue collar workers from the community. And yes there were even two people who came up from Southern California. They were Janet Nguyen a Supervisor from Orange County and Andy Quach a Vice-Mayor from Westminster who flew up to lend support for the name Little Saigon. The fact is that the community played by the rules, and the community prevailed but now the rules have been unfairly changed to manipulate the outcome. The community therefore certainly has legitimate reasons to feel it has been treated unfairly, betrayed, and cheated. On this particular issue, Reed and Nguyen have underestimated the community. Both have been consumed and blinded by arrogance of power, and have forgotten that it is human to error and that they like the rest of us are fallible. However, it is no less human and noble to admit one’s mistakes and to correct those mistakes. But to some there are no limits to the heights of hypocrisy, hubris, and chutzpah.
Minh Q. Steven Dovan
Attorney at Law
4 N. Second Street, Suite 280
San Jose, CA USA 95113-1323
Phone (408) 287-2555
Fax (408) 287-2564