Mai Chong Xiong was elected the first Hmong woman to the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners by a margin of 213 votes out of around 16,000 people who cast ballots Tuesday.
However, this difference was never in question. Xiong and Ying Vang-Pao, the two candidates that emerged from the seven-way August primary, are both Hmong, but their nail-biting race had watchers wondering until after midnight.
Xiong, age 33, beat Vang-Pao, age 56, with 50.19 percent of the vote to Vang-48.85 Pao’s percent, or by 1.34 percentage points, a rather comfortable margin. A defeated candidate may request that the county pays for a recount if the margin of victory is less than 0.5 percentage points.
Longtime legislative aide to former St. Paul City Council member Dai Thao, Xiong positioned herself as the more politically seasoned and progressive candidate for the District 6 seat, which includes a significant portion of St. Paul’s East Side. She stated that her election to the Ramsey County Board makes her the youngest person, the first Asian-American, and the first Hmong-American to be elected.
“I am the daughter of refugees who grew up in poverty and with unstable homes,” Xiong said in a written statement. “I did not have this experience in solitude. It is the tale of several East Siders. We won this campaign together because of our common experiences, shared beliefs, and shared vision for plenty and success.”
Among her endorsements, Xiong had the backing of the prominent St. Paul DFL and the progressive organizing organization TakeAction Minnesota, which helped her to collect almost $130,000 compared to Vang-$76,000. Pao’s
Vang-Pao, a financial consultant and the daughter of the illustrious Hmong General Vang Pao, cited her business degree and her experience navigating the county’s social services system on behalf of her adult daughter, who suffers from Bardet Biedl Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder with extensive symptoms, including blindness.
State Senator Foung Hawj and District 6 County Commissioner Jim McDonough, who will retire in January after 22 years in office, were among Vang supporters. Pao’s Vang-Pao was unavailable for comment.
“We expected it would be close because of her name awareness,” Xiong said in a short interview on Wednesday. She also campaigned vigorously and received the backing of Commissioner McDonough and Senator Foung, both of whom are longstanding East Side residents. The majority of the time, a 10-person canvas went out, knocked on doors, and identified individuals for me to speak with. I believe it was the one-on-one interactions that made the difference.
Priorities for Xiong include the construction of affordable homes at The Heights, the old Hillcrest Golf Course off Larpenteur Avenue, and McKnight Road.