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Westminster City Council majority survives recall election

 Westminster Mayor Tri Ta
Left to right, Tri Ta, Kimberly Ho and Charlie Chi Nguyen are three of the five council members in Westminster that faced recall in a special election in early April. Opponents in a grassroots movement to unseat them were unsuccessful.
(Thien Le)

A three-member majority of the Westminster City Council will stay in office after a recall campaign failed, according to early results in this week’s special election.

With 16,787 ballots counted, voters appear to have overwhelmingly rejected replacing Mayor Tri Ta and council members Kimberly Ho and Chi Charlie Nguyen, whom opponents accused of aligning as a bloc to steer policies they favor. For the last year and a half, the trio have been embroiled in a bitter fight with opponents, as both sides traded charges of a “dictatorship,” nepotism and legal threats.

Westminster has more than 45,000 registered voters, and Tuesday’s election represented a 37.1% turnout. Officials conducted it via mail-in ballot and set up drop-off stations after the coronavirus pandemic forced them to cancel in-person voting.

Ta and Nguyen issued statements after initial ballot counts were released Wednesday.

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“The voters have given us a clear mandate and we take this mandate as a sacred duty to represent the best interest of all the residents of this great city,” said Ta, a council veteran.

Nguyen, a first-term council member, promised to continue pushing for “full transparency and accountability while reducing red tape.” He said he had “barely served six months when this recall effort was initiated.”

“I truly felt like an innocent political victim caught in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he added.

So far, results show Ta emerging with 59.2%, or 9,899, votes against his recall; Nguyen with 57.5%, or 9,594 votes, against his recall; while Ho received 57.2%, or 9,540 votes, against her recall. Their apparent victory enables the three Vietnam natives to retain power in the Orange County Vietnamese Americans enclave, the largest in the nation.

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For months, members of the grass-roots group Westminster United had worked strategically to unseat the council majority, gaining “in-kind” help with a flier and robocalls from a second group funded by Vietnamese billionaire Kieu Hoang, who lives in Los Angeles County and has “paid circulators collecting signatures,” according to organizer David Johnson.

Opponents broadcast multiple reasons why the trio should be removed, alleging inefficiency, corruption and ethical lapses. Rivals also alleged that the trio had tried to circumvent dissent by passing a measure that requires a majority of the five-member council to agree before any items can be placed on a future agenda.

Opposing factions have wrestled for control of a city that has had 10 city managers in the last 14 years; the position currently remains open. Westminster leaders must eventually decide whether to ask voters to renew a one-cent sales tax increase before it expires in 2022, or face a $13-million budget shortfall that could lead to major cuts in public services.

The nastiness on the council played out between the so-called Gang of Three versus their two colleagues, Tai Do and Sergio Contreras. Do had been in the running to replace Ta as mayor if the recall were successful.

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Board members of Westminster United released a statement Wednesday saying that although the group’s effort “was not successful and devastating to the community, we are all trying to find the silver lining.”

“We are also looking towards the November election,” the statement continued. “Our city deserves leaders that will hear the concerns and fight for every citizen, not just those residents who have been misled and brainwashed. We will not give up on making our city a better place for all of our residents.”

Election results are expected to be certified by April 17. Meanwhile, Ta vowed to reach out to rivals who haven’t supported him.

“I promise to work harder to gain your trust, not by words but by deeds,” he said. “It is time for all of us to leave the campaign behind, to join hands and work together as one.”


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