Two Lao-Americans Get Elected as Mayors in the United States

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Xaykham Khamsyvoravong and Sheng Thao were selected as mayors of Newport and Oakland respectively.
Xaykham “Xay” Khamsyvoravong was unanimously chosen as mayor of Newport, Rhode Island and Oakland City Council Member Sheng Thao emerged as the mayor of the Californian city this month.

On being nominated by outgoing mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano, Mr. Xaykham was elected for the position after getting 23% of the overall vote for the at-large city council. He would take on his new role after the new council’s first meeting in December and was the first Asian-American mayor to be selected as the mayor of Newport.

Speaking of his historic win, he said, “I’m very cognizant of the good legacy Newport has of electing lawmakers from diverse backgrounds in the past and so of course I realize that the progress we’ve made, my getting elected and being considered as a serious candidate much the less mayor is of much thanks to those who came before me of many different backgrounds besides Asian American.”

The issue of affordable housing would be one of the most important things that are going to take center stage in Mr. Xaykham’s work as a mayor.

He adds, “Out of the gate, housing is going to be critically important… some great work was done early on helping the city begin to address this issue. I think we need to finish that exercise to ensure that Newport’s residents have housing options available to them and that this is a place that continues to develop workforce housing.”

In November, 37-year-old Sheng Thao became the youngest mayor of Oakland in 75 years and was the first Hmong-American woman to be tasked with the role.

She was of 10 children born to Hmong refugees who fled the civil war in Laos in the 1970s and came to California. Despite an impoverished upbringing and surviving domestic violence in her 20s, Ms. Sheng was able to attend community college and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in legal studies while having to even live in her car at times with her infant son.

“I’ve been through a lot to get to this moment, and have had so many people lift me up in order to get here,” she said after her monumental win.

As a Mayor, Ms. Sheng hopes to focus on matters like increasing crime, homelessness, and housing costs that are depleting the quality of life of the 430,000 people that live in the city.

She says, “We’re going to have an aggressive housing policy that protects renters, fights displacement, and treats our unhoused with the dignity they deserve… And I’m a renter myself. So our tenants should know that I’m going to be a Mayor who has their back.”

Ms. Sheng added that she is all geared up to build a “safer, more affordable, more just Oakland we know is possible in the months and years ahead”.