Tom Huynh, a West Valley City Realtor and native of Vietnam, is the favorite in the West Valley City Council election pitting him against City Planning Commission chairman and longtime community activist Brent Fuller.
In 2008, Huynh ran for an at-large seat on the West Valley City Council, failing to make it through the primary. This time around, though, his chances are a lot better, with Huynh taking first place in the September primary with 45.9 percent of the vote, well ahead of second place Fuller and three other candidates.
West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder—officially neutral in the election, with no preference for either candidate—says he’s excited about the race, especially about the possibility that a city with a 45 percent minority population could finally wind up with an ethnic minority as part of its council.
“We have two really strong candidates there,” said Winder, who added that 31 percent of the city’s residents speak a language other than English at home. Winder points to Huynh’s experience as past president of the Vietnamese Association, as well as his work on the city’s new Cultural Center, and to Fuller’s many years experience on the Planning Commission, as strong points of each candidate. “It will be interesting to see who wins.”
Huynh was born in Nha Trang, Vietnam, in 1967, during the height of the U.S. involvement in that country. He emigrated with his mother in 1988, arriving in Portland, Ore., following stays in refugee camps in the Philippines.
After learning English at Portland Community College, Huynh paid his own way for an LDS mission to Washington, D.C., where he worked with other Southeast Asian refugees. Arriving in Utah in 1992, Huynh enrolled at Brigham Young University in Provo, earning a degree in Asian Studies by 1996 while also serving as a Vietnamese language instructor at both BYU and the LDS Church’s Missionary Training Center. During his time at BYU, he also became a U.S. citizen, something that he wishes more minorities in West Valley City would try to achieve.
“People from Vietnam don’t like to deal with the government and are scared to participate,” Huynh said, explaining why many members of that community don’t follow his lead in getting citizenship. It’s also often an economic issue, he adds. “Many don’t have the money to register or get citizenship.”
Since 2003, he has been a residential real estate agent, mostly working with other Vietnamese. In addition, Huynh has served on several boards and committees in the Salt Lake Valley, including stints on the Utah Cultural Celebration Center board in West Valley City, working as Deputy for External Affairs for the Freedom Alliance Monument at the UCCU, being part of the search committee for the University of Utah’s Asian American Program Coordinator and working for the Zions Bank Advisory Board, which he joined in June of this year.
As president of the Vietnamese Association, Huynh represented members of the community in courtrooms and public hearings from 2002 to 2006, as well as organizing Vietnamese New Year celebrations, the publication of a monthly newspaper and the group’s participation in the annual Pioneer Day Parade in Salt Lake City.
Like general election opponent Fuller, who declined to be interviewed for this story, Huynh is running on a pledge to not raise property taxes.
“More businesses can create more revenue and thus more taxes for the city, all without raising taxes,” Huynh says.
Huynh also notes that, in many cases, ethnic minorities are reluctant to report crimes to the police for fear of deportation. “They are scared of government,” he said. To counteract that fear, Huynh has been working with members of West Valley’s minority community, encouraging them to participate in government.