Wading into the politics of San Jose’s Vietnamese community can be a hazardous endeavor. Several of the candidates running for mayor already know that. Madison Nguyen, the city’s vice mayor and lone Vietnamese candidate, faced a 2009 recall election over her opposition to naming a business district Little Saigon. Councilman Sam Liccardo made a verbal gaffe at his campaign kickoff party last fall when he cited the city's immigrant roots spanning from Jalisco to Hanoi and elsewhere. Namedropping Hanoi, which was once the capital of communist North Vietnam, brings back bad memories for some. Liccardo later said he cited the city for alliterative purposes. The latest faceplant, however, came at a candidate forum hosted last weekend by the Vietnamese Roundtable. NBC reporter Vicky Nguyen served as moderator and posed a question about San Jose forming a sister city relationship with Vietnam. Councilmember Rose Herrera was first to answer and stunned some observers, many of whom fled the communist regime and came to California, by saying she supports the idea and would do anything to promote more economic development. The next four candidates, including county supervisor Dave Cortese and Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio, took a U-turn and distanced themselves from any partnership with a country that remains under communist rule. Herrera is seen as a dark horse in the mayor’s race—more likely to nab votes from Cortese and the vice mayor—so disenfranchising a significant set of East San Jose voters could have been catastrophic. But in an unorthodox move, Herrera showed the poise, if not the mortification, of a public speaker who knows they said something inappropriate. Herrera asked the moderator if she could offer a rebuttal—to her own comments—and attempted to set things straight.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Sam Liccardo was trying to rally support when he mentioned Hanoi. San Jose Inside regrets the error.