Tuesday night Chris Phan walked into the Garden Grove City Council Chambers a single male private citizen, and came out of it a councilman and engaged to be married.
The political newbie was elected with 18.2% of the vote, ahead of an incumbent by almost 3000 votes. He was sworn in yesterday in a ceremony attended by at least a hundred Viet voters, happy to see a new face on the council.
After taking the oath of office, Phan sprung a surpise. He walked over to his girlfriend Cindy Pham in the audience, went down on one knee, produced a ring and asked her to marry him.
The crowd erupted in thunderous applause, and Pham, a doctor of physical therapy, said yes.
“I decided it last Thursday,” Chris Phan told the Bolsavik afterwards.
He had checked with the City Clerk to make sure it doesn’t violate protocol. Then, being the lawyer that he is, he had also checked with the City Attorney to make sure there’s not a law against it.
The day of the swearing in, he told his brother, “There will be a surprise tonight.” Brother said, “What? Are you going to propose?” Phan, taken aback, blurted out, “How did you know?”
So, “by the time of the meeting, there were three people in the room who knew: The City Clerk, the City Attorney, and my brother,” Phan said.
A former JAG lawyer and Iraq veteran, Phan took 10 months going to every single house in the entire city of Garden Grove campaigning for his seat. “The only people I didn’t meet were the ones in gated communities,” Phan previously told the Bolsavik in an interview for the BBC published here.
Phan was in a race with 8 candidates, vying for two seats. There were 3 Vietnamese running; Phan; Phat Bui, a real estate investor; and Jenny Nguyen, who did not put up much of a campaign. He won 13,929 votes, in second place behind one incumbent, and both he and Bui came in ahead of another incumbent, appointed councilman Kris Beard.
While Bui chose to saturate the Vietnamese airwaves and streets with signage, Phan rode his bicycle and walked the neighborhoods.
With a natural cheerfulness that showed through during the interview, Phan described his experience as positive, getting lots of feedback from voters, and learning first-hand that the top priority of the people of Garden Grove was water rates.
But he also encountered resistance. It wasn’t something Phan just up and talked about. The Bolsavik had to ask specifically during the BBC interview, for it to come out: That there was backlash on his ethnicity. “But only once every 9 or 10 houses,” he said optimistically. “The other 8 or 9 houses were really nice and,” he said in Vietnamese, “I took the 8 or 9 to make up for the 1.”
Pressed for an example, he told of an older man who, after reading Phan’s brochure and listening to his presentation, of his education, his tour of duty in Iraq, his service with the Navy, said, “I like your experience, your background, but I can’t vote for you.” And why not? “He said, ‘Because you’re Vietnamese. There are lots of Vietnamese around here and I don’t like it,’” Phan related.
“But that only happened once every 9 or 10 houses,” he repeated again.
It was after coming back from Iraq that Phan met his now fiancée. Cindy was his Navy buddy’s sister, and he met her at the friend’s officer induction ceremony.
A few months into their relationship, however, Phan was recalled to active duty. When he was discharged the second time, that was when he decided to run for City Council.
The ring Phan produced at the City Council meeting was “just a symbolic ring,” he said. Something he picked up at Asian Village Mall (Phước Lộc Thọ) where jewelers occupy the whole second floor.
“We will shop for the engagement ring together,” Phan said.