San Jose lawmaker accused of dating a senior staffer

This article was corrected on August 31, 2019.

San Jose Councilmember Lan Diep is the target of an anonymous political poll released in late May that alleges he “violated city policy” by dating a senior staffer and taking her with him on last year’s taxpayer-funded sister city trip to Japan. 

The three-day telephone poll — released to more than 400 households in Diep’s District 4 — asked participants how convincing the statement was as a reason to vote against him in 2020. The options were: Very convincing, somewhat convincing, not too convincing, and not at all convincing.

The trip celebrating San Jose’s 60th “sister city” anniversary with Okayama took place from April 8 to 12. In addition to Diep, councilmembers Johnny Khamis, Sylvia Arenas, Raul Peralez and Sergio Jimenez also participated, most members taking a staffer with them. Khamis did not take a staffer with him.

Many councilmembers, including Khamis and Arenas, extended their trip to Tokyo for personal travel, using their own money to pay for the additional days. They took their families with them to Tokyo, a visit that was unrelated to city business.

Instead of a family member, Diep took his senior council aide Thulien Dang — who goes by “TL”– to Tokyo for personal travel, raising eyebrows from colleagues at City Hall who said the two are allegedly dating. According to travel records requested by this news organization, Diep and Dang traveled by train to Tokyo after the business leg of the trip and stayed there until April 15.

“They were inseparable,” said a staffer, who also went on the sister city trip. “And yeah — it was awkward.” The staffer chose to remain anonymous in fear of workplace retaliation.

After many attempts, Diep could not be reached for comment.

The staffer said the pair were cozy in Okayama even before taking days off to travel to Tokyo together.

“He came up behind her as we were all sitting in the lobby of the hotel in Okayama, which is where the bus departed from, and was rubbing her shoulders,” said the source, who added that their travel dates were exactly the same, which was not the case for any other staff. “That’s a little odd that he toured Tokyo with his staffer. We all stayed after, but nobody did it with a staffer.” 

Khamis took his mother to Tokyo, while Peralez invited his wife and Arenas took her husband. Many staffers also took their spouses. Khamis is the only councilmember to pay for the entire trip — including his mom’s travel — out of pocket.

While the city’s policy does not bar consensual romantic relationships in the workplace, it does state that the person in the position of authority “will bear the primary burden of accountability” and must ensure that he or she does not “exercise or influence any supervisory or evaluative function” related to the other person in the relationship.

According to Dang’s LinkedIn page, she still remains employed by his office.

Diep faces two challengers, David Cohen and Huy Tran, in his re-election battle next year.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Mayor Sam Liccardo had a conversation with Councilmember Lan Diep concerning TL Dang. Representatives for Dang have denied the conversation took place, and we have not confirmed to our satisfaction that it did. This story has been updated, and we regret any error.

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