Elections can get nasty, but Santa Clara County leaders are drawing the line when it comes to spreading racial tension in political discussions.
The Santa Clara County Democratic Party voted unanimously Thursday to “condemn” San Jose Councilmember Matt Mahan’s mayoral campaign, urging the candidate to address allegations of racially-motivated comments made by a supporter.
The resolution calls out East Side Union High School District Trustee Bryan Do for making “racially-charged” comments against mayoral candidate Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez during appearances on Vietnamese language media outlets last month. The resolution alleges Do made the comments while expressing support for Mahan’s campaign.
As San José Spotlight reported this week, Do is accused of calling Chavez a communist during a Vietnamese language media interview. He denied doing so. A direct translation of the word Do used is left-leaning, but it can be perceived as old slang for “communist.”
The Chavez campaign slapped Do with a cease-and-desist letter last month and ordered him to stop using the word. The dispute reached a breaking point when Do showed up last weekend at a Vietnamese flag raising at the Viet Heritage Garden– where both Chavez and Mahan were in attendance — to hold up signs protesting Chavez and took over the mic before being rushed out by organizers.
In a Sept. 8 interview for a YouTube talk show sponsored by CaliToday, a Vietnamese language news outlet, Do accused Chavez of using her position as a county supervisor to help the Latino community, nonprofits and organizations instead of the Vietnamese community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Do claimed Vietnamese representation in San Jose is lacking, and a Chavez administration would eliminate the Vietnamese voice. The young Vietnamese generation is at a disadvantage, he added, compared to other communities of color. San José Spotlight independently verified Do’s comments, which were in Vietnamese.
“Right now the city council is where Cindy Chavez and her political faction wants to take power in the city of San Jose,” Do said during the interview. “We want a future where someday, our children and grandchildren will rise up and have equal say with other ethnic groups, rather than working for them.”
Santa Clara County Democratic Party Chair Bill James said Do and Mahan should be held accountable and stop resorting to divisive tactics.
“The Vietnamese American community is an important part of the San Jose community… There should be a strong voice for the community,” James told San José Spotlight. “What’s not okay is saying through a surrogate or directly that members of any ethnic or racial community within the city should not vote for a candidate because they’re going to favor some other racial or ethnic community.”
James added that no campaign should win votes using questionable strategies.
“It’s a question of do you really allow Councilmember Mahan to benefit from this racially divisive campaigning on his behalf?” James told San José Spotlight.
Do told San José Spotlight his statements were not racially-motivated.
“I am an elected official and I speak for myself, not Matt Mahan,” Do told San José Spotlight. “I never said anything that was racist—and the only thing racist about this story is that the Chavez political machine is now attempting to create racial divisions based on outright lies.”
Chavez expressed support for the resolution by the Democratic Party to denounce Do and Mahan.
“I applaud the Democratic Party and our community for taking a strong stand against the racist attacks that were allowed by the Matt Mahan for Mayor campaign,” Chavez told San José Spotlight. “Racism has no place in our communities.”
Matthew Quevedo, Mahan’s campaign manager, emphasized that Do isn’t affiliated with the campaign.
“Our response is sadness that this small group of political operatives and Chavez supporters seem willing to create racial divisions based on a disputed translation with no solid evidence or serious fact finding,” Quevedo told San José Spotlight. “There should be no place for racial divisions in our politics and no place for politicians or political operatives to fan the flames of racial division for their own self interests.”
San Jose Councilmember David Cohen, who championed the resolution, said racial tensions could impact the city’s diverse communities.
“People can decide how they want to behave in their campaigns,” Cohen told San José Spotlight. “I’m just concerned that using divisive language is going to lead to long-term conflict or disagreements that’s going to be detrimental.”
Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.