UCSC Alumna Madison Nguyen prepares for 2024 Santa Clara Board of Supervisors run

Former San Jose Vice Mayor and Council member announces a return to politics

Madison Nguyen (Rachel Carson ’97, history). 
As a council member and Vice Mayor, Nguyen engaged with students by visiting schools and reading to them.
During her tenure on the San Jose City Council, Nguyen and fellow council members organized community job fairs to connect residents with employers.

On May 1, UCSC alumna Madison Nguyen (Rachel Carson ’97, history) filed papers to run for the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors District 2. The primary election is March 5, 2024. The top two candidates will go into the general election on November 5, 2024. The winner will start their term in January 2025.

It has been about nine years since 48-year-old Nguyen, a former (and first Vietnamese American) San Jose Vice Mayor and Council Member, left politics. When she stepped away from elected life, Nguyen remained actively engaged in the community by running a non-profit, working with the San Jose Chamber of Commerce, and continuing to support causes and candidates who shared her values. More recently, she served as the Executive Vice President (EVP) at The Silicon Valley Organization and as EVP at AsianNet Media.  

She didn’t envision running for office again, until the last year or so, when something changed. 

“I started to hear from more and more friends, residents and colleagues who were frustrated with the direction we are heading.” This included homelessness and the lack of affordable housing. “We’re seeing rising crime, which impacts residents and businesses alike.  Voters have consistently supported initiatives up and down the ballot to confront these challenges. We are a compassionate and thoughtful community. We want to support vulnerable residents, small businesses, children and families and our seniors. But the harm to our community is no longer tolerable.”

The question she kept hearing from people in the community was, why can’t our elected leaders just get things done? “That’s a very good question. It’s true these are big challenges. These are hard problems, but they are not unsolvable. I know they aren’t because I worked and helped solve these very same problems when I was on the City Council.”

 When she was elected as a San Jose City Councilmember in 2005, Nguyen saw that District 7 lacked major community benefits present in other parts of the city which included affordable housing, road safety, retail opportunities and parks.. She worked with two mayors and fellow councilmembers to address these issues. 

“I stood up, fought back, and added protections to preserve more than 10,000 mobile homes for seniors and low-income families.” She also worked with affordable housing developers and helped build more than 1,000 affordable housing units for local low-income families and seniors.

Realizing that many children in the district were at risk of going down the wrong path, Nguyen worked with the Franklin McKinley School District and other community partners to launch the Children’s Initiative in 2010. “In this cradle to college program, we worked with parents and school-aged children to create a safe and fun environment where kids could learn and thrive academically and socially. This initiative coordinated existing educational, health, social service, housing, neighborhood, and economic development efforts to provide a comprehensive community development approach to cutting poverty for families in the Santee and Fair neighborhoods.”

Nguyen served on the San Jose City Council from 2005-2014 and served as San Jose Vice Mayor from 2011-2014. When she left office, Nguyen felt things were headed in the right direction. “Today, I don’t feel that way. And I’m sorry to say but our county leadership isn’t getting us there, at least not at the pace that residents expect and deserve. I am running because I have the experience, the knowledge, and the drive to get things done and because I am results-driven. And it’s time for results.”

If elected, Nguyen’s top priorities are the homelessness crisis (including providing mental health support services, addiction treatment, more interim housing, and job placement opportunities), affordable housing (for seniors and low-income families) and safety (including working with law enforcement on response time and allocating more resources for crime prevention).

Childhood and Early Education

Her determination has its roots in her childhood. She is a living example of what a person can accomplish with hard work and a strong education.

Nguyen was born in the central part of Vietnam, in a city called Nha Trang. Her family escaped Vietnam in the middle of the night in a small fishing boat when she was four years old. They were rescued at sea and brought to a refugee camp in Bataan, Philippines. The family stayed there for almost three years before a church sponsored their move to Scottsdale, Arizona. After a year they moved to Modesto, California. “My parents began working in the agricultural fields in Patterson almost immediately after our arrival in Modesto. Life was difficult growing up because we were very poor. We lived in a three-bedroom home with 11 people. We relied on government subsidies for almost every part of our lives, from affordable housing to Medi-Cal and free lunches. But I was happy.” 

Growing up, Nguyen appreciated receiving a free, high-quality education. “My parents instilled in all of us that the primary reason they escaped Vietnam was to provide their children a good education in America. Not only did I receive a great primary and secondary education, I participated in different sports, excelled in academic extracurricular activities and served as Secretary of the Student Council.”

She has eight siblings; during the summer the kids (starting when they turned 12) worked in the fields picking fruits. “I worked in the fields every summer until I went to UCSC. I never saw a dollar of my earnings.” The money she made went towards food and the “few new outfits” given to them at the start of the school year. “My upbringing not only helped shape my desire to pursue a career in public service, but it’s a constant reminder of where I came from and the obstacles I had to overcome to be where I am today.” 

Inspiring Experience at UCSC

Nguyen has fond memories of UC Santa Cruz. “I love the campus and the people. I love the academic and social atmosphere. I love the coffee at Stevenson Coffee Shop, the Cowell College Library, and the beautiful ocean view from the West Field. UCSC is one of the best academic institutions in the world.”

She is grateful for her UCSC education and experience, which has deeply influenced her life. “It taught me to challenge the status quo, be authentic in everything I do and most importantly, follow my passion, even if it’s not aligned with my degree. A UCSC education didn’t just prepare me for a specific career, it prepared me to choose the career that I want.”

Nguyen has high praise for her UCSC professors. She speaks of three particular professors as her “education warriors:” Alice Yang and Gail Hershatter (from the History Department), and Helen Shapiro (from the Sociology Department). 

“They were intelligent, thoughtful, caring, understanding, and they exhibited a willingness to see that every student succeeds,” she recalled. “They were smart but approachable, tough but compassionate, intelligent but understanding.” If she were to return to teaching one day, she would strive to exhibit these similar traits. 

Graduate School and Early Career

After graduating from UCSC, Nguyen worked for a start-up magazine company for a year and then moved to Chicago for graduate school. She received a full scholarship from the University of Chicago, and earned a Master’s degree.

“I had such an amazing learning experience at UCSC that I wanted to continue being in love with learning and college life. The studies I did at UCSC propelled me to pursue post-graduate education. I wanted to become a college professor.” She taught at two community colleges in San Jose and enjoyed it.

Nguyen eventually realized her heart was in politics. “What I truly love is the opportunity to meet and converse with people from all walks of life. Being a public servant allows me to not only listen to people’s stories, but it also provides me the opportunity to turn these life stories and experiences into good policies and ordinances that benefit the constituents I serve.” 

After getting a Masters, Nguyen returned to UCSC to begin a Ph.D. program in Sociology. She was living in San Jose and renting a small room to save money. Two years later, in 2002, she ran for her first public office. She got involved because she felt that a Vietnamese American voice was needed on the local school board, given that the school district had more Vietnamese students than any other school district in the city. She competed against an incumbent and won. So she left graduate school to pursue a public service career. 

“It was unconventional to say the least. This goes to show that you don’t have to be rich or come from a well-connected family to pursue a career in politics. Oftentimes, it just takes a strong desire to create the change you want to see and be determined to work really hard and show people that you have what it takes to make that change.” 


Fun Fact: Nguyen didn’t know that banana slugs existed until she came to UCSC. “It’s one of the most beautiful hermaphrodites that crawl on this earth and we are proud to have them as our mascot.”