More than a dozen of Houston City Councilman Richard Nguyen's campaign signs have been defaced with black painted swastikas, Burnt Orange Report first reported yesterday. Via Facebook, Nguyen's campaign tossed a not-too-thinly-veiled accusation toward his election opponent Steven Le, while Le's campaign says Nguyen's side probably vandalized the signs themselves and also claims they sent letters to Vietnamese households calling Le's father a communist.
In a phone interview, Nguyen's Chief of Staff Alvin Byrd said about 18 signs throughout Nguyen's district in southwest Houston were vandalized with the swastika sign, and photographs of Nguyen's face on some signs were cut out or marked with black paint over his eyes and mouth. Byrd said he does not know who is responsible, and he said he spoke to both the Houston Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety about the vandalism.
"I don't want to go around accusing folks when we really have no idea who did it, however there are some indicators during this time of year when election time comes around," Byrd said. "But we've never seen anything done like this. It's basically being looked at right now as possibly a hate crime, but we don't know how far this will go."
However, a post on the Nyugen campaign's Facebook page earlier this week took a much more accusatory tone:
In November's general election, Nguyen received 34 percent of the vote compared to Le's 40 percent, and both advanced to the runoff election on December 12. Early voting began yesterday.
In a phone interview, Le's campaign manager Daniel Albert said Le's campaign had nothing to do with the vandalism, and accused Nguyen's campaign of vandalizing the signs themselves.
"We had no part in this," Albert said. "They have no evidence it was us. Vandalism is illegal, and we don't do anything illegal. We feel that they perhaps did it themselves — we don't know. They've accused us of many things, including being communist."
Albert said none of Le's campaign signs have been vandalized, but he did say "massive levels" of signs have been stolen (he did not quantify that phrase with a more specific count). He said Nguyen's campaign sent a letter to Vietnamese households in the district alleging Le and his father are communists.
"We are very anti-communist in this community, so anytime someone is labeled a communist it’s a serious thing," Albert said. "It's a scare tactic and for some reason it works, even though people should know better. [Nguyen's campaign] never claimed it was their campaign that did it or paid for it — it's either them or their supporters, but more likely them. We've been hit by a lot of attacks from their side and they don't take responsibility for it, so we believe this latest incident of vandalism could be something that they set up and created so they can say that we did it. Whether its them doing it or someone who doesn't like them doing it, it’s definitely not us."
Here's the letter (it's in Vietnamese, and Google Translate didn't help us out much, so good luck):
Strangely, a 2014 election to decide the area's state representative also featured allegations of communism, then against Nguyen's predecessor in City Council, Al Hoang. A banner displayed at an early voting center last year accused Hoang of being a communist spy for the Vietnamese government, prompting a physical altercation (in which a box cutter made an appearance) among Hoang's supporters and his opponent's. Hoang later filed a lawsuit over his accuser's wild claims (the case was quickly dismissed).
Nguyen was elected to represent District F in City Council in 2013, upsetting then-incumbent Hoang. District F includes a large Vietnamese population. According to his campaign website, Nguyen was born in Saigon and fled with his family at the age of 11 after the fall of South Vietnam, ultimately landing in Ohio. Nguyen then moved to Houston and worked in the city's Solid Waste Management Department for more than a decade before running for office.
According to Le's campaign website, Le left South Vietnam with his family on the day before Saigon fell to North Vietnamese forces, then arrived in Houston in 1975 and attended Baylor University before studying family medicine and becoming a doctor.
Byrd said Nguyen's office has not received any threats of violence and added that he has no concerns about Nguyen's safety. We tried to reach him later on Thursday for comment on Albert's accusation that Nguyen's campaign may have self-vandalized the signs, but he has not yet returned our calls or emails (the first time we talked to Byrd, we were not aware of Albert's claims that Nguyen's campaign may be responsible for the vandalism, otherwise we would have asked him about it right then).
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An HPD spokesman told the Houston Press that he was not immediately aware of the vandalism and would try to get back to us with more information (we haven't heard anything yet).
Clearly, these two candidates have beef, and there's a pretty extensive anonymous mudslinging situation in west Houston's Vietnamese community. Election Day just got a lot more interesting.