Southern California First Vietnamese Mayor

Little Saigon gets its first Vietnamese American mayor

Tri Ta on the campaign trail in Westminster

Westminster also is the first city in the nation to have a Vietnamese American majority on the City Council.

WESTMINSTER – First off, Tri Ta wants to be a good man. And a good citizen.

A follower of Plato and other philosophers, Ta said he will bring these beliefs with him when he picks up a gavel next month.

Tri Ta is the new mayor of Westminster and the first elected Vietnamese American mayor in the nation.

Vietnamese American leaders

•Former Rep. Anh Quang Cao of Louisiana

•Former Assemblyman Van Tran of Westminster

•Hubert Vo, a member of the Texas House of Representatives

•Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen

•Westminster Mayor-elect Tri Ta

•Rosemead former Mayor John Tran — appointed

•Other Vietnamese Americans elected to office include former Westminster Councilman Tony Lam, Westminster Councilmen Tyler Diep and Andy Quach, Garden Grove Mayor Pro Tem Dina Nguyen, Fountain Valley Councilman Michael Vo, San Jose Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen, Commissioner Andy Nguyen of Tarrant County, Texas, and Councilman Al Hoang of Houston

Source: Federation of Vietnamese American Community of USA

Tri Ta

•Age: 39

•Born in Saigon, Vietnam; moved to the U.S. in 1992 at age 19

•Managing editor of a trade journal for Vietnamese salon professionals

•B.A., political science, Cal State Los Angeles

•Field representative for Assemblyman Jim Morrissey in 1998.

•Former commissioner on two city committees and active in numerous nonprofits.

•Joined Westminster City Council 2006, re-elected in 2010

•Married, with two children

Ta is not only the first Vietnamese American elected mayor in Westminster, home to the largest Little Saigon in the nation, but the first one in the country, Vietnamese leaders say.

His election signals another political milestone for one of the youngest immigrant communities in the United States, said Van Tran, a former state assemblyman who became the first Vietnamese American to serve in a state legislature.

“The message in his election is that it speaks very positively for the American system and what the American dream is all about,” Tran said.

“No other country on this Earth would have the level of opportunities to provide someone like myself or Tri Ta that opportunity but the United States,” he said.

Huu Vo, chairman of the Federation of Vietnamese American Communities of USA, said, “This election is very important in the community.”

One other councilman elsewhere, John Tran in Rosemead, became mayor in 2007, but that position was rotated among the councilmembers, making Ta the first elected Vietnamese American mayor, Vo said.

Westminster also is the first city in the nation to have a Vietnamese American majority on its city council: Ta, Tyler Diep and Andy Quach.

Diep, however, may have lost his seat during this week’s election; final results are pending.

Since Election Day, Ta has been running from interview to interview with members of the vast network of local Vietnamese media in Little Saigon.

For Ta, it’s a long way from 1992, when he arrived from Saigon at the age of 19 with his parents and sisters.

A self-described “fast learner,” he picked up English quickly and was set to study computer science at Cal State Los Angeles. But then he took his first political science class, and his professor called him in.

“He told me ‘You should go with political science.’ And I thought, ‘Why don’t I do that?'”

His first stint in politics was in 1998, as field representative for Assemblyman Jim Morrissey. Ta joined numerous community organizations and worked on two city committees before winning his first council seat in 2006. He was re-elected in 2010.

Ta, 39, works as a managing editor for Viet Salon magazine, a trade journal for salon professionals.

His interests, however, go beyond work and politics.

He and his wife, Anh Doan, have two young daughters. She’s a pharmacist, but the two have co-written three books, two of poetry and one of short stories.

His passion is philosophy.

“If you want to talk philosophy, I could talk all day,” he said.

“Philosophy really guides me to do the right thing. Philosophy helps me to understand about life, understand about human society, about human behavior,” he said.

And like Plato, he said: “I believe a good citizen must be a good man.”

As mayor, he will lead a city facing a financial crisis. The entire city was zoned as a redevelopment area, and when state legislators abolished redevelopment agencies, funds dried up.

Earlier this year, the council laid off 67 employees.

Ta said he will focus on balancing the budget and bringing in new revenue, working to make Westminster “friendlier and more convenient” to the business community.

Ta said he is honored to be the first Vietnamese American elected mayor, but he said he plans to be a leader for the entire community, not only its large minority population.

Above all, he said, he will be “a good public servant.”

“Philosophy,” Ta said, “helped me to understand the importance of honesty and sincerity in a public servant.

“You need to serve with honesty, with sincerity, and when you try to do that, you are honest to yourself, you are honest to your family, you are honest to your community and you are a good public servant.”

Source: Orange County Register
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Photo: Tri Ta on the campaign trail in Westminster. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times.