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DECISION 2000: ORANGE COUNTY

Now Tran Is Walking the Victory Trail

Garden Grove's new councilman is out thanking supporters. He is the second Vietnamese American to win an O.C. election.

November 09, 2000|MAI TRAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was the day after a grueling, if victorious campaign for a Garden Grove City Council seat. But Van Thai Tran, 36, was back on the street Wednesday--thanking everyone who helped make him the city's first Vietnamese American elected official.

Tran--who is the second Vietnamese American in Orange County to win election after Westminster Councilman Tony Lam--hopped on Vietnamese language air waves to thank the community for its vote. A stint on English-language radio came next, followed by a walk along Main Street, where he shook hands with merchants, thanking them for their support.

Tran, an attorney, and appointed incumbent Mark Rosen won two open council seats. Tran was in first place ahead of eight candidates, with Rosen in second place trailing him by about 2,034 votes.

"I worked hard for this campaign, so I knew I would win; but I didn't know I would win by that many votes," said an elated Tran, who will be representing what may be the county's most diverse city, where Anglos, Latinos and Asians each make up about a third of Garden Grove's population.

Tran, a Garden Grove planning commissioner, actually was one of four Vietnamese candidates for City Council on Tuesday's ballot in Orange County. But Andy Quach, Phuoc "Peter" Bui and Duoc Tan Nguyen, who were vying with three other candidates for two open seats on the Westminster City Council, came in fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively.

Tran's victory came as no surprise to many in the Vietnamese American community, who helped him register voters, get out the vote, and delivered food to his campaign office on Main Street.

"Van's victory is a statement for the Vietnamese community," said campaign volunteer Janet Nguyen, a district director for Assemblyman Ken Maddox (R-Garden Grove). "It really proves that the Vietnamese voice really counts. We're a part of the overall population now, and we're part of the political pool. We have a voice and it's very loud."

Tran is the second oldest of five children, three of whom are dentists, like their mother. His father is a teacher. He was 10 when he escaped Vietnam in 1975 and came to Orange County. He attended Hamline University School of Law in Minnesota, where he graduated with two degrees before opening a law practice in Westminster.

In college, Tran was an activist seeking democracy and human rights in his homeland. To that end, he organized walkathons, concerts and other fund-raisers to help asylum seekers in the late 1980s.

Tran also has worked with U.S. Reps. Robert K. Dornan and Ed Royce, and he founded the Vietnamese American Voters Coalition, a nonprofit organization that promotes voter education and awareness.

"He represents our future," said Cuong Manh Bui, a supporter from Westminster.

Today, he lives in a neatly kept two-story home decorated with angels and paintings. He has a fondness for cigars, scented candles, designer suits, and has a collection of Mont Blanc pens. His home office walls are lined with commemorative plaques and letters, including one from former President Ronald Reagan.

Regarded as a calm, articulate man with rare ability to build consensus and solve problems, Tran was a liaison to Westminster police and protesters during 53 days of massive demonstrations in Little Saigon in early 1999 over the flying of a communist flag at a local video store.

On his stroll up Main Street on Wednesday supporters waved and stopped to shake hands, hug and chat. City Clerk Ruth Smith spotted Tran, and pulled over in her sleek Mercedes to give him a hug.

"We can't wait to have you," Smith said. "We need good people like you."

At the Garden Grove Chamber of Commerce, president Connie Margolin had a little advice before his swearing-in ceremony in December.

"Everyone wants you to be on their side, but you're your own man," she told him."You've had experience. You're educated and politically savvy. You know what to do."

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