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First Vietnamese American mayor of Westminster sworn in

December 13, 2012 |  7:17 am
Tri Ta hugs former Mayor Margie L. Rice after being sworn in as the first Vietnamese American mayor of Westminster. Ta was joined in the ceremony by his family. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Bankers, laborers, teachers and lawyers, many of them immigrants, were among the crowd that swarmed Westminster City Hall to witness the swearing-in of the first Vietnamese American mayor of the city, birthplace of Little Saigon.

A diverse group of about 200 packed the Westminster City Council meeting, with plenty of Asian and Latino faces cheering for Tri Ta when he took the oath of office Wednesday night standing next to his wife and daughters.

Police turned some guests away, telling them to listen through the speakers set up outside.

"I believe he will bring a lot of new ideas to us," said former Mayor Kathy Buchoz, who served in the 1980s. "He deserves it. He's worked hard for it. I think he has integrity. And it's about time."

Solemnly, the new mayor thanked the crowd -- which bore flowers, flags and cellphones to snap souvenir photos -- for their support. Ta then introduced his extended family, including his parents who he said care for his two children "every weekend so I can have more time to attend events."

Ta, a mountain climber and magazine editor, was elected to the council six years ago. He's passionate about philosophy and how masters like Plato push the idea of being a good citizen as a prelude to learning about leadership.

"His winning will inspire people in all ethnic communities to take a closer look at politics, to join the action," says Joseph Pak, a Korean American activist. "It's really exciting and you can expect that everyone will watch him closely."

Taking the oath of office for council seats were Ta's close friend Sergio Contreras, a former Westminster school board member, and newly-elected Councilwoman Diana Carey, who defeated incumbent Tyler Diep, ending a Vietnamese American majority on the five-member council.

Still, the new council recognized one of its key constituencies -- the Vietnamese American community -- by voting 4-0 to approve a resolution creating a "communist-free" zone, requiring government delegations from Vietnam to give at least 10 days' notice of any visits to Westminster so law enforcement could prepare for potential protests.

Ta's victory left his council seat vacant, and some residents have urged city leaders to save the cost of a special election and instead appoint Ta's mayoral opponent, Penny Loomer, to the post. However, outgoing Mayor Margie Rice won the job to become the fifth member of the council, though she previously said she wished to retire.

Ta nominated Rice, who had endorsed him, saying it's not a decision based "on my opinion" but motivated by the "needs of the city."

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-- Anh Do in Westminster

Twitter: @newsterrier

Photo: Tri Ta hugs former Mayor Margie L. Rice after being sworn in as the first Vietnamese American mayor of Westminster. Ta was joined in the ceremony by his family. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

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