East Sider’s remarkable campaign falls short by only 365 votes to long-time incumbent Dan Bostrom. Despite the setback, Hang remains optimistic: “We started something here. This is only the beginning.”
Momentum was on her side. Diversity was on her side. It even seemed like the future was on her side. But in the end, the votes just didn’t add up on her side.
After a courageous attempt to become the first Hmong-American to be elected into the St. Paul City Council, Pakou Hang fell short by 365 votes to long-time incumbent Dan Bostrom after a roller-coaster night at the polls.
When four of the first five precincts reported Hang on top, the capacity crowd of election-night supporters erupted into a throng of cheers and song. A year’s worth of hard work and planning seemed to be coming to fruition.
With cameras flashing and the capacity crowd at the Polish Club on St. Paul’s East Side cheering her name, Hang stood on stage with her family and closest supporters. Proceeding with a speech filled with overtones of victory, the exuberant candidate thanked her supporters and talked of the long road they had all taken to this point.
Hang’s emotions hung in the air as she proclaimed a new era in St. Paul. “Tonight we are winners,” Hang emphasized with a clenched fist. “And the politics that we embody, the politics that we fight for, we are all winners. It is the politics of hope. I have said all along that I am an eternal optimist. Tonight we have proven to many disbelievers that the politics of hope and optimism on the East Side are well and alive.”
Pointing out that nearly 200 volunteers had come out on election day to help, Hang’s message of cohesion and progress in St. Paul stirred the crowd which continued to revel in the shared optimism.
When the final votes had been tallied, however, the mood suddenly turned morbid. With the announcement that Bostrom had come back to capture the majority of the votes (2,507 versus 2,142), the room froze with disbelief.
“It felt like we went from a wedding to a funeral,” explained Kathy Mouacheupao who had captured the evening on video. “The room suddenly began to empty as everybody seemed to have been caught off guard with the bad news.”
Despite the somber turn of events, Hang remained in high spirits throughout the remainder of the evening. Making her rounds to personally thank supporters, she made it clear that her objectives had been met.
“We weren’t just trying to win an election,” Hang remarked in convincing fashion. “We were trying to start a movement, and that is something that I can be proud of.”
With the hall nearly empty, Hang’s strongest supporters remained by her side. Some had their heads down, but the majority of supporters were lifted by Hang’s buoyant attitude towards the future of St. Paul politics.
Hang’s spokeswoman, Andrea Sachs, was quick to point out how the strength of Hang’s campaign had affected the incumbent.
“Bostrom understands now that his constituents are paying close attention to what he is doing in city hall,” Sachs proclaims. “He realizes like never before that he can’t just continue to do things unchecked.”
Proud of her niece, area business owner Xiong Thao questioned some of the inequities that remain in the modern political climate.
“The country that talks about change and equality is America,” Thao states while comparing the modern system of politics to that of the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. “But the country that doesn’t practice those words is also America.”
Being the district with the highest concentration of Hmong residents in America, the East Side of St. Paul seemed to be the perfect proving grounds for Hang, a political dynamo whose efforts in the past have helped the campaigns of Sen. Mee Moua and the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.
Her own campaign looked to be on the upswing when she was able to block Bostrom from receiving the DFL endorsement at the DFL convention held earlier in the year. It was a big blow to Bostrom, whose last two campaigns went unchallenged, as the endorsement would have cemented his cause. Furthermore, Hang had made a promise to withdraw her nomination if Bostrom would have received the endorsement.
Campaigning on the platform of change and progress, Hang’s popularity can be calculated by the contributions she was able to raise. Although dwarfed by Bostrom’s reported campaign contributions of $83,462, Hang’s campaign was able to collect $47,541, an astonishing amount for a rookie candidate.
Looking forward, Hang is unsure about her political career, only now concentrating on getting her Ph. D from the U of Minn.
“Things have only begun,” Hang states with no remorse a day after the elections. “I’ve already received calls from neighbors about how we can continue to make this city a better place to live.”
As for running for city council again, “We’ve got four years to consider it.”
WHY CAN’T ST. PAUL DO IT?
Despite having the largest population of Hmong, St. Paul has not been able to elect a Hmong into the City Council. Yet, other cities throughout America have been able to vote a Hmong-American into its City Council. Here is a list of past and present Council members:
1. Lormong Lor, Omaha, Nebraska (1994-2001)
2. Joe Bee Xiong, Eau Claire, WI (1996-2000)
3. Neng Lee, Eau Claire, WI (2000-2002)
4. Saidang Xiong, Eau Claire, WI (2002-2004)
5. Thomas Vue, Eau Claire, WI (2006-present)
6. Blong Xiong, Fresno, CA (2006-present)
7. Noah Lor, Merced, CA (2007 – )