Orozco Wins District 4 Primary, Write-In Ballots Raise Questions

A special election took place in Santa Clara County last week and something unusual happened—it went smoothly. The Registrar of Voters generally takes up residence in the woodshed during and after elections, but it appears no complaints have been filed over the handling of ballots for Berryessa’s seat on the San Jose City Council. If anything, it appears voters may have made the mistakes. This isn’t a shot at Tim Orozco’s first-place finish, or Manh Nguyen’s 13-vote edging of Lan Diep to secure second place and a spot in the June 23 runoff. Diep tells Fly that 168 voters marked their ballots for a write-in candidate, but just 26 of those people actually wrote in a name. He says he instructed his supporters to mark the last spot on the ballot, which he thought would be his name—not the blank for a write-in. Those people intended to vote for him, Diep suspects, but they didn’t follow through. There’s no way to prove that, of course, so the race moves on. Diep technically has until the end of this week to call for a recount, but he tells Fly he’s more likely to go on a long road trip and clear his head. Meanwhile, Nguyen—whose camp said it would have filed a complaint against the city clerk for ballot mishandling, had he finished in third—has wasted little time trying to recruit voters who supported Diep, as well as proponents of the other five vanquished candidates in the primary. It’s not a given he’ll be able to count on the support of all of District 4’s Vietnamese voters, who have a reputation for voting along ethnic lines. But this week Nguyen received a boost by securing endorsements from San Jose’s current and former mayors, Sam Liccardo and Chuck Reed, and counterparts in Milpitas and Campbell, Jose Esteves and Jeffrey Cristina, respectively. Orozco joked to Fly that his opponent now has the support from "all of the Republicans." He added that he thinks Liccardo is a Democrat, but he wants to control the city "with no hindrance or obstacle in the way, and apparently thinks he can use Manh Nguyen to do that." Nguyen’s camp sent out a release Wednesday morning saying it discourages outside committees from spending money for the runoff, or going negative, which is a limp request unlikely to be heeded. The balance of power on the council is at stake, and neither labor—which is supporting Orozco—nor Liccardo and the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce are likely to let the chips fall without a fight.

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  1. If Orozco thinks Sam is supporting Manh because he thinks Manh will be his puppet, why did Sam wait until after the runoff to endorse a candidate?

    • I’m happy to answer this. Sam stayed out of an endorsement in the primary because both Lan Diep and Manh Nguyen claimed some responsibility for helping him get Vietnamese votes in the mayor’s race. It’s commonplace for mayors to steer clear of endorsements until after a primary, but Sam’s decision to sit on his hands was further complicated by Manh’s support through his radio program and Lan’s volunteer work on the campaign—although I’ve been told Lan’s actual volunteer time may have been overstated. Both candidates claimed partial responsibility for Sam’s victory over Dave Cortese.

      What’s more significant in all of this is the role of the Chamber of Commerce and its close ties to Liccardo. The Chamber gave a dual endorsement to Manh and Lan, but it only spent money on Lan’s campaign—around $100K,I believe. This was a precedent—spoken support for two candidates but money for only one—and it backfired in the Chamber’s face. Now there will be an awkward reconciliation. Nothing formal, of course, because IEs have to be “independent.” But even though Manh’s campaign says it doesn’t want outside expenditures, there is no way he will beat Tim Orozco if the South Bay Labor Council is the only major player throwing around cash.

      Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this race—something the Merc and admittedly SJI haven’t done a great job of covering—has been the complicated nature of Vietnamese politics in San Jose. There is an old guard of Vietnamese people in certain districts who vote strictly on relationships rather than issues, and they tend to be more conservative/Reaganites. This isn’t my own assumption, multiple elected officials and candidates have told us as much. One simply has to say the word “communist” about another candidate and it has the effect of yelling “fire” in a movie theater.

      It will be interesting to see how well Manh picks up the support of other Vietnamese candidates from the primary. The bad blood— my words—between Manh and Lan could still play a role in all of this. There is a possibility Lan could throw his support behind Tim Orozco, which would be fairly crazy. I don’t know if his supporters would listen, but a young Republican backed by the Chamber being so upset he throws his name behind a labor-endorsed candidate—that would he crazy. But from what we’re hearing, it’s not impossible.


      • Mr. Diep worked for the Liccardo campaign and that could be the rason why Liccardo did not endorse.

        Another reason why Liccardo wants Mr. Nguyen to prevail is access to Nguyen’s media empire.

        Mr. Nguyen should prevail in the run-off. The Vietnamese voters are very loyal and organized.

        David S. Wall

  2. “He says he instructed his supporters to mark the last spot on the ballot, which he thought would be his name—not the blank for a write-in. Those people intended to vote for him, Diep suspects, but they didn’t follow through.”

    Good lord, what can you say about that? Why not simply tell supporters to mark the circle next to his name, wherever it is on the ballot?

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