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Nguyen Sworn In—New Era Begins at City Hall

Tuesday night, Suzanne Nguyen took the place of veteran Council Member Dan Gustafson, who bowed out of a bid for re-election in June of 2012.

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First things first: For the record, new Council Member Suzanne Nguyen's last name is pronounced "win." And win she did during her first foray into local politics, beating out former Council Member and Republican activist Steve Cherney for a spot at the dais in Burnsville's city hall.  

Nguyen is the only non-incumbent to join the council after the election on Nov. 6. She was voted in with Council Member Mary Sherry who won a second term, and longstanding Mayor Elizabeth Kautz, who has been mayor for almost two decades. The three are joined by Bill Coughlin, a relative newcomer, and Dan Kealey, who is in the midst of his second term.

She replaces Dan Gustafson, who was commonly considered a pro-business member of the council. At this point, it's unclear how Nguyen's influence will affect the council's balance of power. 

"I'm not coming in with an agenda," Nguyen said, who cited property maintenance and the financial health of the Burnsville Performing Arts Center as top concerns.

Over the last six months in particular, Gustafson and Kealey formed a vocal minority. The two came down against a recent proposal to ban new thrift stores and in favor of loosening city sign ordinances. Recently, the two agitated to amend the city's longstanding policy to keep housing stock split 70-30 between single family homes and rental units. Gustafson and Kealey argued that Burnsville was in dire need of luxury rental units, though the other council members remain unconvinced.

"I'm going to miss (Gustafson's) pro-business support. He thinks forwardly and outside the box and I think that's what governments at all levels have to do today to deal with shrinking tax revenue," Kealey said on Tuesday. "I think the key word is (Gustafson) has remained flexible, and I don't think that same level of flexibility exists with the other council members." 

"I'm hoping Suzanne will bring a fresh, open-minded perspective. Time will tell," he added. 

Before the 2012 election, Nguyen was not a household name in Burnsville. Nguyen is originally from Minneapolis. By profession, she is a speech and language clinician for the Minneapolis Public School District. She and her husband, a physician, moved to Burnsville in 2001 to be closer to his family. They currently reside in a neighborhood on Burnsville's east side, near Lake Alimagnet.

"My husband and I live a few doors for my mother-in-law," Nguyen said on Monday. "It's definitely a change, but I  love my neighborhood and it's great being by family."

Prior to 2012, she'd never run for an elected office.

"I was definitely surprised at the number of people who voted for me (over 9,000). I did a lot of footwork," Nguyen said. "I put up 5,000 door hangers and did a lot of door-knocking. I talked to people in every precinct and just did the best I could."

Sherry said she'd only known Nguyen in passing before this year, but was impressed by her work ethic.

"It was clear when she did her campaigning that she does her homework. She was very, very well prepared at the candidate forum," Sherry said. "I was impressed with understanding of what had gone at the city."

For now, Nguyen will be learning the ropes at city hall. She will be up for re-election in 2016.

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