Madison Phuong Nguyen (born 1975) is an American politician from California. She served on the San Jose, California, City Council from 2005 to 2014, representing District 7, and she additionally served as Vice Mayor from 2011 to 2014. She was the first Vietnamese American elected to the council. In April 2015, Nguyen declared her candidacy for the California Assembly representing District 27.
Born in Vietnam to Nho and Dang Nguyen, Madison and her family escaped Vietnam on a small fishing boat when she was four years old. Her family then settled in various refugee camps in the Philippines until a Lutheran church sponsored them to Scottsdale, Arizona. Her father worked as a janitor, receiving a stipend of only $500 a month to support his wife and children. Eventually, he moved his family to Modesto, California, in search of employment for his family in the Central Valley. Madison worked in the fields alongside her parents as a teenager. She is one of nine siblings.
Madison received her Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She received of Master's degree from the University of Chicago. She returned to California in 2000 to pursue a Ph.D. in sociology at UC Santa Cruz but did not complete the program.
Nguyen began to become more involved in politics in 2001, while working as a sociology instructor at De Anza Community College; inspired by MTV's "Rock the Vote" campaign, she and members of the Vietnamese community organized a voter drive in which nearly 5,000 new voters registered to vote for the first time. She followed that up with a run for a position on the Franklin-McKinley School District Board of Education, hoping that her election would encourage Vietnamese Americans to get more involved in local politics. Her win made her one of the first two school board officials of Vietnamese descent in the United States. The other, elected around the same time, was Lan Nguyen of Garden Grove, a city in southern California's Orange County. However, it was Nguyen's organization of protests in support of Bich Cau Thi Tran, a Vietnamese woman shot to death by a San Jose police officer that brought her to the forefront of people's minds in the Vietnamese American community. Nguyen, who felt the incident was being ignored by the public and the media, organized a rally to which nearly 300 people showed up.
In September 2005, she decide to run for city council in a special election to replace Terry Gregory in District 7. Vietnamese Americans, who formed less than 10% of San Jose's population at the time, turned out in record numbers during the primary election in June to support Madison Nguyen and Linda Nguyen, pushing them ahead of seven other candidates. Madison Nguyen won 44% of the primary vote, while Linda Nguyen, a real estate attorney, received 27%. In the end, Madison Nguyen received 62% of the votes cast, beating out Linda Nguyen to become the first Vietnamese American to serve on the San Jose City Council.
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 an area of a Story Road in her council district with a large percentage of Vietnamese retailers should be named as "Little Saigon" or "Saigon Business District". Little Saigon is a common name used for various other Vietnamese-American commercial enclaves, particularly known in Orange County, California. Nguyen suggested the name "Saigon Business District" after she heard from different groups in her council district who wanted the word "New" to be included in the name, indicating a new life in America after they left their homeland. Supporters of the Little Saigon denounced Nguyen as a traitor to the community because she did not support what they deemed as the "majority" of the Vietnamese community supported, which was "Little Saigon." 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 not invited to attend the annual Tết parade, organized by her political opponent Linda Nguyen. Activist Ly Tong even started a hunger strike out of anger at the "Saigon Business District" name, which lasted for 28 days. However, support for the "Little Saigon" name was not unanimous. On February 12, 2008, hundreds of 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.
On March 4, 2008, 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, 2008, 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. A year later, Nguyen won re-election and in 2011, she was nominated by Mayor Chuck Reed and was approved unanimously by the city council to be Vice Mayor. She is also the first Vietnamese Vice Mayor in the history of San Jose.
2014 mayoral campaign
Nguyen announced in 2014 that she was a candidate for mayor. She came in third in the June 2014 primary election to select the top two candidates for the November general election, with 21% of the vote, thereby ending her campaign.
- Molina, Joshua (2008-01-14), "The rise, troubles of San Jose Councilwoman Madison Nguyen", San Jose Mercury News, retrieved 2008-02-28
- Gottlieb, Allie (2003-08-28), "Madison Nguyen: The Visible Woman", Metro Active (Silicon Valley), retrieved 2008-02-28
- Fulbright, Leslie (2005-09-15), "Council win is first for a Viet American", San Francisco Chronicle, retrieved 2008-02-28
- Biography of Madison Nguyen, Madison Nguyen, City of San José Councilmember, official website, 2009, retrieved 2009-06-25[dead link]
- Alicia Gaura, Maria (2003-09-30), "The Vietnamese Recall reveals newfound independence", The San Francisco Chronicle, retrieved 2008-02-28
- Kang, Cecilia (2002-11-01), "Asians promote political power", San Jose Mercury News, retrieved 2008-02-28
- Yi, Daniel (2002-11-29), "Beating the Odds in Garden Grove Race", San Jose Mercury News, retrieved 2008-02-28
- "Nguyen Vs. Nguyen; Race to become San Jose's first Vietnamese-American councilmember ends", The Sacramento Union, 2005-09-14, retrieved 2008-02-28[dead link]
- "Madison Nguyen Wins San Jose City Council Seat", KTVU News, 2005-09-13, retrieved 2008-02-28
- "Amid Protest, SJ Approves 'Saigon Business Dist.'". CBS 5. 2007-11-21. Retrieved 2009-05-28.[dead link]
- Molina, Joshua (2008-01-09), "An ultimatum for Madison Nguyen; Quit or be forced out, big Vietnamese crowd warns councilwoman", San Jose Mercury News, retrieved 2008-02-28
- Molina, Joshua (2008-02-05), "'Little Saigon' controversy: Politics in, Tet parade out", San Jose Mercury News, retrieved 2008-02-28
- May, Patrick (2008-02-20), "'Little Saigon' hunger striker: 'I'll continue until I die'", San Jose Mercury News, retrieved 2008-02-28
- "Councilmen Help End 'Little Saigon' Hunger Strike", KTVU News, 2008-03-13, retrieved 2010-10-01
- Woolfolk, John (2008-02-22), "Plans to put 'Little Saigon' to citywide vote in San Jose appear dead", San Jose Mercury News, retrieved 2008-02-28
- Molina, Joshua (2008-03-02), "'Little Saigon' protest draws 2,500 in advance of Tuesday's vote", San Jose Mercury-News, retrieved 2008-03-08
- "California: No ‘Saigon Business District’", The New York Times, 2008-03-06, retrieved 2008-03-08
- Molina, Joshua (2008-04-23), "Activists begin attempt to recall San Jose Councilwoman Madison Nguyen", San Jose Mercury News, retrieved 2008-04-30
- Joshua Molina (2008-10-09). "Recall of San Jose Councilwoman Nguyen qualifies for ballot". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 2008-10-10.
- Associated Press (2009-03-03). "San Jose council member fends off recall". Google News. Retrieved 2009-03-04.
- Rosenberg, Mike (June 2, 2014). "San Jose mayor's race: Dave Cortese vs. Sam Liccardo in November". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved July 30, 2014.
- Campaign homepage
- Official page on the San Jose city government website
- What's Happening in San Jose Vietnamese Community from the Vietnamese American Council; contains several news stories on Madison Nguyen
- This American Life - Episode 381: Turncoat Prologue and Act One is about Madison Nguyen and the district naming controversy