Special elections leave little time to vet candidates, especially when the list of contenders takes a full two hands to count. That was the case in the primary election for San Jose’s District 4 council seat, when 10 names graced the ballot. The race has since been whittled to two candidates, Tim Orozco and Manh Nguyen, and the latter has quite a life story—as well as some Gatsbyish intrigue.
After fleeing Vietnam following the fall of Saigon, Manh came to San Jose and started a media company, which currently broadcasts and publishes in Vietnamese. During the primary election, he utilized Viet Multimedia LLC's resources—content and advertising revenue—to support his campaign and edge Lan Diep for second place in the primary by just 13 votes. One could call this an unfair advantage, if not an abdication of journalistic integrity, but it apparently falls within election rules. Viva Citizen Kane.
But there is some mystery surrounding Manh beyond how he uses his company’s resources.
In November of last year, Manh says, he rented an apartment in District 4—just a month before launching his campaign. Why would this be necessary? It’s complicated.
Nguyen remains married to his wife, even though they’ve technically been separated for the last decade. He says they have had an “on and off” relationship since that time, but sources say Nguyen has been living in a different house, behind his media company’s office on South Second Street, for years.
If true, his new apartment could be seen as an attempt to buffer his residency credentials. Candidates are required to live in the district they want to represent at least 30 days before the filing deadline. His apartment would meet that requirement, if he's actually been living there, but barely.
Manh's media company, and the house with a garden behind his office, is located south of downtown, which falls into District 3. Manh says he sometimes works late and stays overnight at his office—which also operates as campaign headquarters—but he's most definitely a D4 resident. Campaign records and a check with the county Registrar of Voters would suggest this is accurate, but not because of the apartment he rented in November.
Manh lists his place of residence as a home on Sierra Road. A check with the county Assessor’s Office shows he transferred ownership of this home to his “ex” in 2009. He also filed for bankruptcy that year, which presents other unusual questions.
The economic downturn was tough on every business, and especially media companies, but Manh says he filed for bankruptcy because he couldn’t afford payments on the Second Street property. Could it be he was trying to save his business and his home?
Records with the Secretary of State's office show that in 2009 he created a new corporation for his media company and placed it under the control of a female business partner named My Duong. Manh wouldn't speak in detail about this person but he says that business partnership, which has since been dissolved, was strictly that—business. But that hasn’t stopped persistent rumors on the campaing trail of Manh having multiple wives, which he acknowledged in an interview as something he has had to address in the past.
“Not correct,” he says. “I have relationships with different women but never leave my wife.”