Fountain Valley's soon-to-be first Vietnamese American city councilman said serving is about giving back and has promised to donate his stipend to a local charity.
Michael Vo, who edged incumbent Cheryl Brothers by about 500 votes in a race for three open seats, has also pledged to forgo taking any medical benefits.
"I just want to be able to serve and give back to the city of Fountain Valley," he said.
Vo was elected with longtime Councilman John Collins and newcomer Mark McCurdy to join Mayor Larry Crandall and Councilman Steve Nagal on the dais.
Vo, Collins and McCurdy are scheduled to be sworn in at 6 p.m. Dec. 7 at City Hall, 10200 Slater Ave.
In Fountain Valley, council members receive a $475 a month stipend and are eligible for medical benefits, said Matt Mogensen, assistant to the city manager.
Council members pick up the tab for mileage, parking and other transportation costs while on city business, Collins said.
"We do pick up an awful lot of stuff ourselves," he said.
Collins, who has served for 20 years, said he has never heard of anyone in Fountain Valley donating their stipend.
Vo said he already has medical benefits and makes a good living working at the American General Life and Accident Insurance Co.
Vo said he sees serving on the council as a volunteer position. He said he plans on setting up an independent committee of residents to decide where the money should go.
Vo came to America from Vietnam when he was 17, but not before he got a good look at what a corrupt government looks like.
Vo said under the Communist regime, he remembers that politicians would celebrate being elected before the election and how he wasn't able to speak his mind.
It was that upbringing that made him want to run for political office — a way for him to give back for the opportunity to raise his children in a free society, he said. He has a 15-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter who were born and raised in Fountain Valley.
"After 30 years, this is home, and I just want to do my share to protect it," he said. "Being here in America, I realize that this is the best democracy on earth. You can do whatever you want. People here are free."
Vo hasn't returned to his native county and doesn't plan on it until it becomes a true democracy, but he does instill his heritage in his children, who attend Vietnamese school.
"If it really is a democratic government that upholds human rights and freedom of religion, then I would definitely go back [to visit]," he said. "But right now, I have to take a stand against tyranny."
Vo said he is bringing not only the perspective of being Asian American, but his business background to the council.
Having worked in the private sector his entire life, he said he will bring business-friendly ideas to the council.
"My vision is to change Fountain Valley, not only into a nice place to live, but a better place to do business," he said.