Historic Numbers of Cambodian Americans Running for Office in Lowell

The upcoming Lowell Municipal election has many new Cambodian-American candidates. Remarkably, there are 2 Cambodian-American incumbents and 4 candidates running for city council. For the school committee seat, there is one incumbent and 2 new candidates. That sums up to 9 Cambodian-Americans in the City of Lowell with a 120,000 plus population.

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Lowell’s election has changed as a result of a voting rights lawsuit in 2017 which transformed Lowell’s all at-large seats into district representations, dividing into 8 districts and 3 at-large seats. The total is 11 city councilors. Formerly there were 9 city councilors at-large, citizens voted for up to 9 candidates. In this election, voters can only vote for one councilor representing their district and elect up to 3 at-large councilors. School committee seats have also changed from all 6 at-large seats to 4 district seats and 2 at-large seats.

The new election system has drawn great interest from all neighborhoods. The youngest candidate in this election is Justin Ford, 28 years old, a U.S. Army Veteran, Cambodian mixed black and white, who has stepped up to run in district 6, (Lower Highlands) challenging Sokhary Chau, incumbent. Ford said “I am tired of young people like us got pushed to the sideline of the conversation at the City Hall. I want to bring a new voice that represents our generation to the table”.

Image Source: LowellMA.Gov/FindMyDistrict

District 6 is a minority-majority district. The majority of the residents are of Cambodian descend, according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey in 2018. Citizens of voting age consist of 46.5% Asian, 34.4% White, 12.8% Latino, and 3.8% Black. The district includes the Lowell Cambodia Town, the heart of Cambodian businesses, foods, and cultural hub.

Sokhary Chau, Incumbent. Dist. #6
Justin Savoung Ford, Candidate. Dist. #6







Three incumbents are running at-large seats, Vesna Noun, Rita Mercier and John Drinkwater. Three new at-large candidates are Bobby Tugbiyele, Deb Belanger, and Robert Hoey, Top three runners will get a seat.

Vesna Nuon, Incumbent. At-large
Rita Mercier, Incumbent. At-large
John Drinkwater, Incumbent. At-large
Bobby Tugbiyele, Candidate. At-large
Deb Belanger, Candidate. At-large

Another minority-majority district is district 7. It has 42.9% White, 26% Asian, 26.3% Latino, and 2.9% Black. Four candidates are in the race: two Cambodian American candidates, Paul Ratha Yem, a democrat, and Kamara Kay, a republican, Dave Oullette, and Patricia Stratton. District 7 has the Acre. Paul Ratha Yem and Dave Oullette have passed primary election on Sept 21, 2021 and are challenging each other in the general election.

Paul Ratha Yem, Candidate. Dist #7
Dave Oullette, Candidate. Dist. #7







Ty Chum, Candidate. Dist. #8
Erik Gitschier, Candidate. Dist. #8


District 8 has the 3rd highest number of Cambodian voters. It has 26.1% Asian voters, 8.5% Latino, 4.5% Black, and 60% White. Ty Chum, a Cambodian American candidate is running against his opponent Erik Gitschier.



Tooch Van, Candidate
Kim Scott, Candidate

The 4th highest number of Cambodian residents is in the 5th district. It includes the largest Cambodian function hall Sampao Meas, Angkor Thom Market, and Glory Buddhist Temple on Cambridge Street. Tooch Van, a first time candidate and Cambodian American, a plaintiff in Voting Rights Lawsuits “Hout et all vs. City of Lowell” in 2017 that lead to this election system change, is in the race. His challenger is Kim Scott. A former school committee member. This district has 20% of Asian voters, 53.9% white voters, 17.6% Latino, and 6.2% Black. There was no primary for the 5th district. The two candidates are heading into the general election.


The 5th highest number of Cambodian voters is in district 1. Pawtucketvile. There are 15% Asian voters, 11% Latino, 5.5% Black, and a large 67.6% White. A long time councilor and former Mayor Rodney Elliott is running for district 1. His challenger is Dan Rourke, incumbent.

Rodney Elliott, Incumbent
Dan Rourke, Incumbent








The 6th highest number of Cambodian voters is in district 4, it’s downtown Lowell, Back Central. It has 10.8% Asian voters, 19.6% Latino, 7.1% Black, and 58.8% White. Two candidates going into the general election are: Ryan Rourke,  Wayne Jenness. Paul Belley lost in the primary.

Ryan Rourke, Candidate. Dist. #4
Wayne Jenness, Candidate. Dist. #4







The remaining two districts 2 & 3 have a Cambodian population of less than 10%. District 2 – Centralville have the least Asian population of 4.6%, with 25.2% Latino, 7.8% Black, and 62% White. Robert Gignac, former school committee and councilor is running for this district. Two new candidates are in the race: Corey Robinson and Martin Hogan. Martin Hogan lost during the preliminary race. Corey Robinson and Robert Gignac are moving to the general election.

Robert Gignac, Candidate. Dist. #2
Corey Robinson, Candidate. Dist. #2







District 3, Belvidere, has 7.1% Asian, 9.4% Latino, 3.2% Black, and has the highest white population 79.4%. Three incumbents are in the race for District 3, Dave Conway, former Mayor Bill Samaras and current Mayor John Leahy. Incumbent Dave Conway has been eliminated as a result of the preliminary on Sept 21, 2021.

Bill Samaras, Incumbent. Dist. #3
John Leahy, Incumbent. Dist. #3







As for school committee, there are 4 district seats and 2 at-large seats.

Dominik Lay is running for re-election in district 4, his challenger is Cheth Khim. And a first Cambodian American female candidate for School Committee District #3, Susie Chuon, is challenging Andre Descoteaux, incumbent.

Dominik Lay, Incumbent. Dist #4
Cheth Khim, Candidate. Dist #4
Susie Chhuon, Candidate. Dist #3
Andre Descoteaux, Incumbent. Dist #3







The first all Black candidates for District 1 are Ben Opara, who came close to winning in the last election cycle, and Stacy Thompson, a first black female candidate.

Ben Opara, Candidate. Dist. #1
Stacy Thompson, Candidate. Dist. #1







District 2 has Eileen Delrossi, and Hilary Clark, Incumbent

Hilary Clark, Incumbent. Dist. #2
Eileen Delrossi, Candidate. Dist. #2







For the two at-large school committee seats, there are four people in the race. Michael Dillon, Jr., incumbent; Jim Peters, candidate; Connie Martin, incumbent, and Jacqueline Doherty, incumbent.

Mike Dillon Jr., Incumbent.
Jim Peters, Candidate.
Connie Martin, Incumbent.
Jacqueline Doherty, Incumbent.







Unlike elections in the past in which voters can vote up to 6 at-large school committees and 9 at-large city councillors, on November 2nd, voters can vote for one school committee district, 2 at-large school committee members, one district councilor and 3 at-large councilors. Each voter will vote for up to 7 people. If you are not sure which district you live in, you can type in your street address here: LowellMA.Gov/FindMyDistrict. It will tell you which district you live in and where to vote.

This article was published in print issue 325, September 20 – October 3rd, 2021 and has been edited to include the latest updates from the primary election on September 21, 2021.