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Meet Richard Nguyen

The Council Member-elect in District F is little known outside the district.

Richard Nguyen

Richard Nguyen

From the opaque world of local Vietnamese politics comes a story as old as American politics, as inspiring as a Frank Capra movie, as bittersweet as the lost war that haunts a generation of aging immigrants who were given new opportunity at a painful price.

It is the story of Richard Nguyen, who emerged from obscurity as a lower-level civil servant into the spotlight of the Houston City Council with an improbable election victory last week. The 50-year-old city employee had no campaign war chest, or even piggy bank – his two modest fundraisers ended up with a negative net balance – but he managed to oust District F incumbent Al Hoang, whose controversial two-term tenure finished 196 votes shy of a third.

“He defeated himself more than I beat him,” acknowledged Nguyen, who works for the Dumpster Inspection Branch of the solid waste department. “I was never confident, but I had faith. I had no money, but I had motivation. I am surrounded by sincerity over sycophants. People saw how real I am, how much of a mission I have. I promised them I would honor them instead of hustle them.”

When the last ballot box was counted, the job was his – to everyone’s surprise, him included. Nguyen had no plan or agenda. He said he was not too sure what was involved with being a council member, or whether it is truly a full-time position. Nor did he realize that a council member’s pay, $62,000, would give him a $20,000 raise. He still talks about needing some part-time gig that will help with bills and a $10,000 campaign debt. He and his wife have two children, a mortgage and no room to splurge.


Nguyen’s biggest resource was a reservoir of ill feeling toward the incumbent, who did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

There were accusations – never proved – that Hoang had misused funds intended for a Vietnamese community center. There was a lawsuit he filed to evict a nonprofit organization from a building it shares with another organization. There were claims that he had forged signatures on a petition to change the name of the street he lives on. And there were widespread complaints about an attitude of condescension and arrogance displayed toward the Vietnamese community in both public and private.

Even worse, much worse for the older generation of Vietnamese refugees who escaped the country after the fall of the South Vietnam government in 1975, was Hoang’s trip to Vietnam in 2010 and his polite participation in a reception for a visiting dignitary from the country. What outsiders might see as a reasonable economic development trip or proper show of respect to visiting foreign dignitaries can look like betrayal to those who still carry the burden of great loss.

While this story tells us a few things about Richard Nguyen, it’s at least as much about soon-to-be-former CM Al Hoang. What’s funny to me is that it seemed like Hoang’s second term was more peaceful and less controversial than his first term. Both the lawsuit against the nonprofit anf the trip to Vietnam took place in 2010. Even though Hoang was re-elected without too much trouble in 2011, and has avoided generating that kind of news since then, it’s clear the rifts were never healed, and this time around the people who cared the most about them had a candidate they wanted to rally behind. Let that be a lesson to us all about political memory.

As for CM-elect Nguyen, we’re going to need more of these stories because there just isn’t anything out there to find on him. He had no campaign website or Facebook page. He did a candidate Q&A with Texpatriate that tells us nothing about what he would actually do as Council member other than not be Al Hoang. A post from September on Little Saigon that discusses the race, which PDiddie cited in the immediate aftermath of the election, is also mostly about Hoang. One key question that hasn’t been answered, or asked as far as I know, is how Nguyen feels about Mayor Parker. CM Hoang endorsed Mayor Parker for re-election this year, so his loss could have an effect on her ability to move her third term agenda forward. I’m sure Mayor Parker has reached out to CM-elect Nguyen, but until we know how that went, we don’t know if she’s facing a less friendly Council this term than she might have expected or not. We’ll just have to see.

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  1. Robert says:

    not being Al Hoang…. would be enough to get my vote, lol

  2. joshua ben bullard says:

    Since I was the paid political consultant threw out the entire Richard Nguyen campaign,contrary to what the Houston chronicle may want you to believe that it was made up of only family ,friends and volunteers,theres a good reason why the campaign expentitures list political consultant payments to a Joshua bullard and political consulting payments to Joshua bullard (not that Charles kuffner is any better=we all know he checked and is keeping silent about it)but anyways=Richard never had any thing negative to say about mayor parker,he was super active in district f on the community level and himself along with others had grown tired of being ignored=I met with him 3 days after he filed=I liked the fact that he was a city employee and that added to my motivation to help get him elected,hes a super positive guy,he was filled with sooo much passion to want to serve the voters of district f it added to my mission=Charles=I didn’t single handedly do it, but I had a hand in about 800 hundred of those votes that Richard received,mail,poll work,my mom,my moms hoa in district f, the mail game we ran was top notch,wow ,the massive amount of volunteers for the block walking,good for Richard nguyen,he called me before early vote started and said he had taking the entire rest of the time off, until after election, was over and that his supervisor said before he left “Richard youll have a pile of work waiting on your desk when you get back”i responded to Richard”not to worry, when you win you can talk directly to the department head” thers a reason why eric dick for mayor and Richard nguyens camp slogans are the same”because Houston deserves a mayor that works for everybody” because district f needs a councilman who serves everybody” ‘RICHARDS PLEDGE “I pledge to serve the community relentlessly.i will work to reduce the rising crime in district f,improve our infrastructure,protect the environment.i aim to work with hpd to ensure safer neighborhoods.i will work to repair damage roads to ease rising traffic congestion,maintain public parks,and clean our surroundings.i will be the facilitator in city hall to expedite our library construction.i will have monthly repport of the city activities” Richard nguyen campaign 2013.

    Joshua bullard

  3. Tayson says:

    U.S. Elections 2013: Vietnamese-Americans Reject Pro-Communist Stance Of Al Hoang (Hoàng Duy Hùng)

    A two-term Houston City Councilman Al Hoang (Hoàng Duy Hùng) of District F was defeated by a political novice Richard Nguyen with a 48-52% margin. District F has a population of 185,000 people composed of 42% Hispanic, 23% Black, 15% White and 16% Asian. Out of 67,000 registered voters, Vietnamese-American voters represent 15% of the total. Less than 12% of the registered voters went to the poll, a strong Vietnamese American turnout would have tipped the balance or even handed the victory to the candidates as Nguyen received 3,160 votes while Hoang garnered 2,964 votes. Hoang lost despite the endorsement by the local newspaper Houston Chronicle. Nguyen’s win represents a mini referendum on Al Hoang’s pro-communist stance by the Vietnamese community.