Daughter of Vietnamese refugees to become San Bernardino’s first Asian American mayor
In an election cycle full of historic firsts, San Bernardino voters overwhelmingly came out in support of Helen Tran, who is set to become the city’s first Asian American mayor.
The daughter of Vietnamese refugees, Tran, 40, is also poised to take office as San Bernardino’s third female mayor.
“For me to be able to become the first, that’s huge,” Tran said. “It’s going to amplify the diversity [in City Hall] even further. ... This entire council looks like all of us. It’s beautiful.”
With all city precincts reporting, preliminary election results show that Tran easily won the mayoral seat with 62% of the vote, defeating longtime City Atty. James “Jim” Penman, who got just under 40% of the vote. Fewer than 10,000 people voted in the election, according to records from the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters.
San Bernardino County election results have not yet been officially certified — that’s expected next month — but Tran’s opponent conceded the race, according to the San Bernardino Sun.
Over the past year, four Los Angeles City Council members have lost their campaigns for reelection or higher office. A fifth could soon join them.
Tran will join one of the most diverse group of representatives on the City Council, but she said her focus will be on collaboration — among her colleagues and the community.
“Ultimately, I just want to see our community come together as one,” said Tran, who ran without a party affiliation. “We are all connected, we all need each other.”
Tran, a lifelong San Bernardino resident and mother of three, said her parents moved their family to the area from San Diego, soon after they immigrated to the United States with little money or resources. She said she remembers having to learn English at San Bernardino schools, and getting her first taste of political organizing through her high school’s Key Club.
“We had humble beginnings,” Tran said. She said that reflecting her family’s journey and success in San Bernardino motivated her to give back. Though she initially wanted to be a third-grade teacher, she ended up working in San Bernardino’s City Hall in human resources, eventually becoming the youngest director of the division.
“They don’t have another pool to go to. They go swim in the Santa Ana River.”
She most recently served as West Covina’s human resources and risk management director, after she left San Bernardino City Hall upon the election of her predecessor, John Valdivia. She said she had concerns about his leadership; he later faced growing criticism and was censured by the City Council, before losing his reelection bid.
“I never would have imagined running for office or being an executive for an organization,” Tran said. “It’s almost like I fell into City Hall for a reason.”
And with her experience working for the city, in risk management and as someone “who deeply cares and loves the city,” she said she’s excited to step into her new role.
Tran did not run officially with a political party, though her campaign said she is a registered Democrat and was endorsed by San Bernardino County’s Democratic Party. The Republican Party of San Bernardino County did not endorse a candidate in the race.
She said she is most focused on addressing the housing crisis, public safety, economic development and improving funding for schools and parks.
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