In central San Jose, a heated battle for the District 7 City Council seat is brewing as incumbent Maya Esparza faces two challengers.
Esparza, who edged out former Councilmember Tam Nguyen in 2018, is seeking a second term—with two Vietnamese candidates also eyeing the seat.
District 7 encompasses some of the most diverse neighborhoods on Tully, Story and Monterey roads, and is home to Kelley Park, the San Jose Giants and San Jose Vietnam Town. After last year’s redistricting process redrew political boundaries, the district is comprised of roughly 47% Asian voters and 37% Latino.
With Nguyen losing his seat and former Councilmember Lan Diep being unseated in District 4 in 2020, Vietnamese community leaders and residents in the district are eager to see a Vietnamese policymaker on the council again.
Here are the three candidates vying for the seat in alphabetical order.
A San Jose fire captain for 11 years, Bien Doan hopes to bring a breath of fresh air to District 7.
Doan, who lacks a long history of community organizing like his opponents, said his priorities are to address homelessness, crime and the increasing cost of living in the area.
“As a fire captain, I serve San Jose every day helping keep people safe and healthy,” Doan told San José Spotlight. “I’ve never run for office before and I’m not a politician. I have the fresh ideas needed at City Hall to restore a voice back to the people of District 7.”
Doan, 57, wants to see more housing options for homeless individuals and thinks the unhoused need to accept help when offered. He also wants to restore staffing levels at the San Jose Police Department and calls for lower taxes in the city. He led a protest during the redistricting process last year to prevent the breaking up of Asian and Vietnamese voting blocs in San Jose.
Doan, a firefighter for close to three decades, was the first Vietnamese American fire captain in San Jose. He is also the president of Vietnamese American City Employees and a board member of the Asian American Women’s Alliance.
Doan has scored endorsements from San Jose Councilmember and mayoral candidate Dev Davis, former District 7 Councilmember Tam Nguyen, former San Jose Councilmember and county supervisor candidate Johnny Khamis and the Silicon Valley Biz PAC. He’s raised $35,017 from 29 organizations and residents, according to the latest campaign filings.
“City Hall isn’t working for the residents of District 7,” Doan said. “I will be a voice for my district.”
As the current leader of District 7, Councilmember Maya Esparza hopes to continue her work serving her community.
Esparza touts her record of improving public safety by bringing more police patrols to neighborhoods, funding street improvements and addressing the impact of homelessness with close to 50 events to remove more than 1 million pounds of trash from the district. Under her leadership, District 7 also saw new parks, trails and improvements—such as the new garden program at the Viet Heritage Garden.
“The people of my district were being failed and ignored by City Hall—the basic needs just weren’t being met,” Esparza told San José Spotlight. “In my first term, I have focused on those basics and made a difference for our neighborhoods.”
Before City Hall, Esparza worked as a director at Destination: Home and led a campaign which helped resolve veteran homelessness in the South Bay. In 2012, Esparza was elected as a trustee to the Franklin-McKinley School District board. She is co-founder of Veterans Voices Santa Clara County and was the founding board president for Latinas Contra Cancer.
Esparza has the support of San Jose Fire Fighters Local 230, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, the Santa Clara County Democratic Party and the South Bay Labor Council. She’s raised $40,582 from 99 organizations and residents, according to the latest filings.
“I’m not another politician who talks about the problems—I walk the walk, as you can see by what I’ve been able to accomplish for District 7 in my first term,” Esparza said. “I am focused on solving problems, not pointing fingers and throwing blame.”
Van Le, an East Side Union High School District trustee, said she wants to bring safety, affordable housing, help for small businesses and humane solutions to homelessness to District 7.
Le, who has run for City Council and state Assembly several times, is a longtime leader in the Vietnamese community for more than three decades. She’s a delegate to the California School Board Association and a board member of Work2Future. She’s also a former vice president of the Little Saigon Foundation and the Vietnamese Americans in Northern California. Le worked for the city’s redevelopment agency before starting her business as a State Farm Insurance agent.
“I’ve been in leadership and public service roles for my entire adult life, working to solve the local problems that affect our residents,” Le told San José Spotlight.
Le, 63, wants to see more police in District 7 to address public safety and gang activities. To solve homelessness, Le calls for investments in shelters, affordable housing and mental health and substance services—she said one solution doesn’t fit all needs. She also wants to see more communication between City Hall and residents—and more culturally competent city workers who can speak Spanish and Vietnamese.
Le has gained the support of Santa Clara County Supervisor Otto Lee, East Side Union board President J. Manuel Herrera and Nguyen Khac Binh, major general of the armed forces of the former Republic of Vietnam. She’s leading in fundraising efforts with $71,193 from 190 organizations and residents, according to the latest filings.
“I will keep my promise to our residents,” Le said. “I have been involved in my community for over 35 years, and I am an effective and collaborative leader who understands how to get things done.”
The primary is set for June 7. Hear from the District 7 candidates during San José Spotlight’s candidate forum on April 7.
Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.