District Naming Controversy and Recall Attempt
Nguyen's support from the Vietnamese American community suffered a sharp reversal in early January 2008, in a controversy over whether a San Jose neighborhood with a preponderance of Vietnamese-owned businesses should be renamed as "Little Saigon" or "Saigon Business District". Little Saigon is a common name used for various other Vietnamese-American communities and is often used as a sign of defiance towards the current government of Vietnam. Nguyen opted to use "Saigon Business District" because of the political implications of the name "Little Saigon". Supporters of the Little Saigon name denounced Nguyen as a traitor to the community, and also attacked a lone counter-protester outside of City Hall that night, who was holding a sign asking them to "Please stop offending our Vietnamese tradition, culture and ethics" and accused them of singling out Nguyen unfairly for her lack of support. Mayor Chuck Reed stated that supporters of the Little Saigon name "are the most vocal, but may not be the majority"; fellow council member Judy Chirco went farther in her criticisms, complaining after the January 8 meeting and vote on the issue that "I have heard more disrespect tonight than I ever thought I would hear from the Vietnamese community". Both refused to retract their statements when pressed.
Backlash against Nguyen continued to grow throughout January; she was disinvited from the city's annual Tết parade, organized by political opponent Linda Nguyen. Activist Ly Tong even started a hunger strike out of anger at the "Saigon Business District" name, which lasted from February 15 to mid-March. However, support for the "Little Saigon" name was not unanimous; on February 12, 350 local Vietnamese American residents, prominent businesspeople and anti-communists among them, also issued a statement emphasizing that the "Little Saigon" supporters did not represent them. That same day, Nguyen and Reed proposed putting the issue to a public referendum, in an effort to mollify critics; however, this proposal was withdrawn ten days later due to the estimated cost of $2.7 million and the fear that the vote would prove even more divisive to the community. A March 2 protest against the "Saigon Business District" name drew 2,500 people; they accused Nguyen of having conspired with real estate developer Lap Tang to fight the name "Little Saigon" and instead use a name proposed by Tang, "Vietnam Town Business District."
On March 4, the city council voted to rescind the "Saigon Business District" name, but stopped short of renaming it "Little Saigon"; instead, they proposed setting up a process by which business owners could choose district names. However, anger against Nguyen remained; on April 22, the issue was reopened with the submission of recall papers against Nguyen by the Recall Madison Nguyen committee. On October 9, the petition qualified for the March 3, 2009 ballot, having garnered more than 150% of the needed valid signatures. On March 3, 2009, voters rejected the recall attempt with a 55-45% vote.
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