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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Senior Citizens Accuse Representative of Using Benefits as Political Leverage in Name Dispute

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) - A group of Vietnamese-American senior citizens claims that councilwoman Madison Nguyen hired someone to threaten to take away their Social Security benefits if they exercised their political rights, in Federal Court.

Filing anonymously to avoid "ridicule and castigation," the seniors claim that the overwhelming majority of their district wished their San Jose neighborhood to be called "Little Saigon," but their elected representative wanted to name it the "Vietnamese Business District" as a favor to "a local businessman, who was actively developing a shopping mall in her area."

She got her wish over the will of her constituents in November 2007, the complaint says, through lobbying campaigns that may have violated California's Brown Act against government secrecy. The seniors say that a lawsuit against the city on those grounds is still pending.

When the councilwoman's actions were discovered, Vietnamese-Americans demonstrated and successfully petitioned the City Council of San Jose to rename the area "Little Saigon" in March 2008.

With the success of their campaign, many were emboldened to remove Councilwoman Nguyen from office, and the seniors say that they "gathered more than seven thousand signatures" (more than twice the required number) to put a recall on the ballot.

According to the lawsuit, the Vietnamese-language radio station Vien Thao Media then broadcast a threat from one "Ms. Nga Nguyen," who claimed to be a representative of the Department of Social Services. The plaintiffs say that this woman announced that any seniors who demonstrated against the councilwoman would be cut off from receiving benefits, and the radio station screened listener calls to keep criticism of the councilwoman off the airwaves.

"Public filing indicates that Madison Nguyen's campaign committee spent thousands of dollars on Vien Thao Media," the complaint says.

The seniors are suing the councilwoman, Vien Thao Media and other unidentified defendants who may be involved in this conspiracy.

They are represented by Paul Bick Nguyen.

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