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By one vote, an election in lost in Rosemead

John Tran, former mayor and city councilman, is left without a seat, even after two recounts of ballots cast in the March 3 vote.

May 24, 2009|Carla Hall

John Tran was a member of the Rosemead City Council and the city's sitting mayor until the March 3 election. He lost. By one vote. And that's after two recounts.

On Friday, when the latest tally left him a single vote short of winning one of three City Council seats up for election, Tran declared his more than two-month campaign to contest disqualified ballots officially over.

"I didn't want to drag this out," Tran, 33, said Saturday. "If I continued pursuing this, I would further divide the city. I did the best I could."

Tran says he's not agonizing over the margin of defeat. "You prefer to lose by a landslide rather than one vote," he said, chuckling. "But whether it's one, five or 10, it's still a loss."

For the moment, Tran will return to being a full-time real estate agent. "Are you looking for a house?" he asked.

Tran said he'll also be appearing on an episode of "The Lazy Environmentalist" TV show being developed for the Sundance Channel. Among other things, he said, he rode around Rosemead on an electric bike that the filmmakers gave him. "I love the bike," he said. "You just plug it in."

After the March 3 election -- with all the provisional and absentee ballots counted -- Tran found himself in fourth place, behind by 30 votes.

He paid for a hand recount and "narrowed the margin to five votes." He was still in fourth place. Tran said about 112 absentee ballots were disqualified because the signatures on the ballot form were different from the signatures on the voter registration form.

"Basically this is not only a local problem, it's a national and state problem, because voters who vote by mail and have their votes disqualified will not be notified," he said. He noted that a discrepancy could be attributed to something as simple as a person's signature changing over time.

Tran's lawyers requested that those disqualified ballots be reconsidered, but the city clerk declined to do so. Tran and his lawyers then argued that the courts should order 31 of those ballots reviewed. A judge agreed. Ultimately, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant decided that four of the ballots should be counted. And even though all four went to Tran, that still left him one vote short of winning a seat.

"Once a judge ruled he was going to open ballots, I thought that was a victory," Tran said. "Our whole goal was to get ballots counted, regardless of the outcome."

Tran added, "The judge made this comment: 'For all the people out there who don't believe their vote counts, I wish they could have been here.' "

Tran, who was born in Saigon, left Vietnam for Oklahoma with his parents when he was 3. The family moved to Monterey Park when he was in elementary school, and he became a citizen when he was 18. Tran served for six years on the Garvey School District board in the San Gabriel Valley before winning a seat in 2005 on the Rosemead City Council. His fellow council members elected him mayor in 2007 and 2008.

The Vietnamese American politician, who speaks Vietnamese and the Fujianese dialect of Chinese, said he has a large base of support in the Asian immigrant community. "They tend to forget to vote or think it doesn't matter," Tran said. "I talked to a lot of people who said, 'I thought you had it in the bag.' "

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carla hall@latimes.com

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