This story was updated to include information from the candidates’ most recent campaign finance disclosure reports.
A city hall beset by political divide and pushed close to the brink of financial calamity will, like many other cities in Orange County, see two of its council seats go up for election on Nov. 3.
There are five candidates hoping to take charge of this city with a vibrant Vietnamese American community in the heart of Little Saigon and ambitions to expand its status as a tourism destination, but marked by neighborhood blight in areas like the west-end and years of intense bickering and disagreement at the government level.
Notably, the city’s recent switch to district elections have put two council members who have clashed with each other, Kimberly Ho and Tai Do, in the same District 3 — meaning they’ll run against each other.
If Ho loses, she’ll lose a place on the dais as her current term is up. If Do loses, he’ll remain for two years since his current seat was elected by voters citywide.
Recently, the two were on opposite sides of the debate over what to do with the city’s financial future. Ho was in favor of putting a ballot measure question before voters over whether to continue the city’s sales tax measure that’s kept its budget above water for years.
Do and a majority of council members weren’t, leaving the city at risk of cutting key services and basic functions when the tax measure expires in 2022.
His candidate statement continues to campaign on the commitment of opposing tax increases, as well as “reducing excessive bureaucracy to attract and retain businesses,” supporting police officers, and addressing homelessness.
He’s reported more than $42,000 in fundraising for his campaign so far, and reported loans to his campaign of $25,000.
Ho is campaigning on her support for public safety — much of which depends on the extension of the tax increase to fill its coffers — as well as addressing housing concerns, roads and street repair, business development and promoting tourism in Little Saigon.
She narrowly out-fundraised Do with $45,000 in political contributions, but has reported far more in loans of $86,000.
Running for District 2 are all newcomers.
Carlos Manzo, a planning commissioner, has been a frequent at council meetings (pre-COVID-19) and was a supporter of the recall movement against the three-member council majority — Ho, Charlie Nguyen, and Mayor Tri Ta — by political group Westminster United this year. The recall was unsuccessful, and the council members in a special election retained their seats.
“I am running for City Council because I want to increase the quality of life for all residents, ensuring our tax dollars are being spent wisely,” his candidate statement reads. “I want to work to beautify our city, and to make it a place we can all be proud of. Most importantly, I want to bring ethical and transparent decision making to City Council.”
He’s fundraised around $19,000 in political contributions, according to his most recent campaign finance report.
Also running for this seat is city traffic commissioner NamQuan Nguyen, whose support comes partly from Lan Quoc Nguyen, an attorney who represented the council majority during the recall process.
Among his priorities, according to his candidate statement, are maintaining “small, limited municipal government with a balanced budget, low taxes and no fee increases” among others.
He’s reported more than $52,000 in political contributions, and more than $5,000 in loans.
Trung Ta, whose ballot designation lists him as a “retired project manager,” cites his experience working with budgets to campaign on issues of the city’s financial circumstances.
“Westminster City has faced many problems in the last 10 years from homelessness, public safety issues, high cost of housing, transparency problems, and a budget deficit. To solve these problems, Westminster needs a city council member who has vision, experience in budget management … and a passion to serve the people,” his candidate statement reads.
He’s reported roughly $4,300 in fundraising through donations, and more than $7,000 in loans, according to the latest campaign finance reports he disclosed.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Councilman Tai Do would lose his seat this year. He will not. Voice of OC regrets the error.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.