Minh Duong, the pro-business, Chamber of Commerce–endorsed City Council candidate, has made his business experience the central theme of his campaign to oust District 7 Councilmember Madison Nguyen. He believes his knowledge of budgets and finance can help the economically-strapped city better manage its money.
Duong’s own business acumen, however, may not rise to the level his talking points suggest. The 31-year-old furniture store owner has defaulted on his home mortgage, incurred multiple property tax delinquencies, neglected to pay his garbage bills and been threatened with eviction on his business and foreclosure on his house. Last month, he was kicked off the San José Small Business Development Commission.
Duong’s money problems seem to begin in 2005. That’s when the Long Beach Mortgage Company notified him that the mortgage on his house at 2342 McLaughlin Ave. was in arrears, and demanded $506,511.23.
The default notice said the California Reconveyance Company would be selling the home at public auction if he did not pay up. By September 2009, Duong faced foreclosure on the home.What’s more, he and his wife, Hieu Duong, have failed at least three times to pay property taxes on their home, as well as MHD Home Furniture and Décor, their Brokaw Road furniture store.
Santa Clara County tax collector Martha L. Williams says that one October 2009 tax lien she issued Duong for $2,643.29 remains unpaid.
In 2008 Duong’s store was threatened with eviction when Duong fell $10,450.14 behind in his rent. And he got behind with the city of San Jose last year, when he didn’t pay $237.51 in garbage bills.
Though he lists his position as a San Jose Small Business Development Commissioner at the top of his qualifications on his campaign mailers, in reality Duong was thrown off the board on July 20 by City Clerk Lee Price following three unexcused absences from commission meetings.
Asked about the laundry list of money troubles, Duong says he wasn’t aware of the foreclosure and tax violations, and would have to confer with his accountant.
“I’m surprised that there are so many things popping up,” Duong said in a telephone interview Friday, “But if they are, they must be an oversight and I’ll certainly dive into the details on that.”
As to his furniture store’s eviction notice, Duong explains that one of employees failed to send a rent check when he and his wife were on vacation.
“I went to the management office and said, ‘Look, I have had this the whole time, it’s just that the person who I delegated the work to didn’t send it in,’” Duong says. “I handed it to them and it was done, finished. So that was a very minor misunderstanding.”
While campaigning, Duong has repeatedly emphasized his experience as a local businessman who, having achieved the “American Dream,” wants to bring his expertise in responsible budgeting to voters.
“We can not spend more than we can take in,” Duong said at a meeting of the San Jose Downtown Association (SJDA) last Friday.
As “someone who has signed both sides of the check, who knows what it’s like to turn a profit,” Duong continued, “I understand what it’s like to live between the means.”
Friends Like These
The Republican got a huge shot in the arm last spring when he was endorsed by the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce over incumbent Nguyen.
Chamber head Pat Dando was not available for comment at presstime, but when the ChamberPAC first announced its endorsement last spring, Dando said Duong’s consistent business-centric campaign line stood out in comparison to Nguyen.
“Quite frankly, just looking at Madison’s voting record over the past year, she had clearly not been a real friend to business,” Dando said.
According to Nguyen, Duong’s past money issues are no secret in San Jose’s tight-knit and all-to-often drama-filled Vietnamese community. She says the local Vietnamese-language media have been all over his record of financial inconsistencies.
“If he can’t balance his own checkbook, how can voters expect him to balance the city budget?,” Nguyen says. Duong says focusing on his personal life draws attention away from the important issues currently facing District 7 residents. He accuses the Nguyen campaign with tarnishing his name.
“If I’m going to talk about my opponent, I’m going to talk about issues that are relating to the residents and what’s not been done for them, and how our leaders have misused and abused and mislead the district,” Duong says. “I’m not going to dig into my opponent’s personal life.”
Nguyen says that Duong has a pattern of not taking responsibility for his actions.
“He consistently apologizes for his mistakes, but never intends to correct them,” she says. “He’s like, ‘Sorry, I didn’t know,’ but he just keeps on letting it happen again and again.”
This is Duong’s second attempt at getting on the San Jose City Council. He ran a failed campaign for Dave Cortese’s old District 8 seat against Rose Herrera in 2008.
In addition to the issues that have just come to light, Duong was fined $500 by the San Jose Elections Commission last month for violations of city campaign disclosure laws.
Specifically, he was penalized for not reporting that he was sued in January 2010 for $22,459 by Ronald Wong, a campaign consultant on his first bid at City Hall. The Elections Commission also determined Duong had filled out several election filing forms incompletely and incorrectly—errors he says were entirely unintentional.
Signs of Trouble
In related news, eight large blue-and-white “Re-elect Madison Nguyen” signs were knocked over or torn up Sunday night at different locations around District 7.
In a strange twist, Nguyen says that she got a text Sunday evening from Rudy Rodriguez, Duong’s campaign manager, admitting that he was going to be taking action against her signs.
The texts, which were forwarded to Metro by Nguyen’s campaign, read: “Madison—Your volunteers or you have placed signs on my Latino supporters who are now supporting Minh. These signs will be removed tonight. Call me if you would like to discuss.”
Nguyen says the property owners did not authorize anyone to remove or destroy the signs, which were worth about $40 each. The police are investigating the matter as possible misdemeanor vandalism.
Before he took over the Duong campaign, Rodriguez himself ran for the District 7 seat in the June primary.
Duong was not available for comment Tuesday, but told CBS 5 on Monday that nobody from his campaign was behind the sign destruction. Even so, he admits his campaign manager Rodriguez did in fact sent Nguyen the above text “in a moment of passion.” sign destruction.
Even so, he admits his campaign manager Rodriguez did in fact send Nguyen the above text “in a moment of passion.”