Garden Grove school board trustee Bao Nguyen has taken the lead in an ever-tightening mayoral race, which continued Wednesday with Nguyen seven votes ahead of incumbent Mayor Bruce Broadwater, as Registrar of Voters officials continue to post verified ballots from last week’s election.

Nguyen had an early lead on election night after absentee ballots were counted, but ended the night 357 votes behind. 

The 35-year-old political newcomer launched his campaign this year amid intense public scrutiny of Broadwater’s  tenure, triggered by the recent hiring of his 37-year-old son Jeremy as a firefighter despite a string of misdemeanor arrests and poor performance reports from his superiors.

Although the six-term mayor has steadfastly denied any involvement in his son’s hiring, that hasn’t stopped the firefighters union from calling for Jeremy Broadwater’s removal and pushing for the fire chief to resign.

Nguyen has since been endorsed by the fire union, which also gave him a $10,000 political contribution and supported many of his campaign events. 

He’s criticized the mayor’s current focus on the Harbor Boulevard developments and has proposed more focus on job creation for young professionals and college graduates, although he hasn’t proposed any concrete plans.

A gubernatorial appointee of the Orange County Fair Board who works for a local home care workers’ union, Nguyen has meanwhile been criticized for his lack of experience and campaign-like speeches at city council meetings that have bristled many residents.

Broadwater has defended his long tenure as a guardian for the city’s coffers — pointing to the addition of multiple hotels and the construction of a Waterpark Hotel on Harbor Boulevard, as breathing life back into a poor city struggling for tax revenue for its general fund.

He says the issue is a politically motivated attack by a fire union that has long sought more control of the department.

There are 21,749 outstanding ballots left to count countywide.

Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley has said that while he originally planned for the last remaining votes to be counted by Friday at 5 p.m., that deadline may ultimately be extended.

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