Lan Diep has been collecting comic books since the third grade and has paid more than he’s willing to admit for things that don’t, technically, exist in the real world.
He owns a working Ghostbusters trap, for example. And he keeps a piece of kryptonite under glass, just in case the Superman truthers are right.
But he concedes there are few opportunities for a grown, adult lawyer to whip out things that some people would choose to classify as toys. So they’ve languished in his closet, safe from scratches, thieves and those who would mercilessly mock him.
But a month ago, things changed. Diep realized his life until this point had just been an origin story: He became San Jose’s City Councilman Lan Diep.
And it was time to dig into the closet for a prized possession.
“I don’t want people to assume I assigned more forethought and meaning to this than I did,” he told The Washington Post of his now viral swearing-in ceremony. “The political landscape as of late has been gloomy. I just wanted to bring a moment of levity to the proceedings.”
He also brought a replica of Captain America’s shield.
In pictures of the ceremony, he’s earnest and straight-faced, his right hand raised, his left hand gripping a shield the size of his torso.
The shield is as close to the real thing as you can get without it being forged from vibranium, and scratched by the Black Panther. It’s aluminum and obeys the laws of physics, but it’s essentially the same shield Chris Evans carried when he played Captain America, Diep said.
“It’s not just something you can get at Toys R Us,” he told The Post.
The heroic swearing-in ceremony was technically Diep’s third since he squeaked out a 12-vote win in June for the nonpartisan seat.
He took the official oath in December in a quiet ceremony meant to ensure that San Jose had a working government despite a fluke of the calendar.
Earlier this month, he had a public, ceremonial swearing-in for his constituents and loved ones.
He was supposed to be sworn in with his colleagues for a third time earlier this month — a tradition before the first meeting of a new city council — but had opted to attend former president Barack Obama’s final address. So he was sworn in alone on Tuesday night.
“I already had my group swearing in, and that was official. That one goes to the state,” he said. “And I had this really cool shield that I never get to show anybody. One of the most patriotic things that you can do is get involved in democracy.”
He pulled the shield out of the closet.
His colleagues chuckled but took it in stride, he said. But the local newspaper wrote about it and posted a poll. Most people applauded the act, but some mocked him mercilessly.
Captain America fights for freedom. I hope Councilman Lan Diep will fight for freedom tonight. The whole world will be watching. https://t.co/HDEhknZeHQ
— Chris Le (@ChrisleforSJ) January 24, 2017
— Mike Sington (@MikeSington) January 25, 2017
He stressed that he’s serious about the issues affecting his region, and believes that adding a dash of fun to policy discussions engages more people than it pushes away.
“I take the job seriously, of course,” he said. “I take myself less seriously. I’m not above entertaining people in hopes that they will wade through the policy discussions.”
— Lân Diệp (@LTDiep) January 24, 2017
In the months to come, Diep plans to go to battle with what he thinks will be traffic congestion brought by the expansion of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system to San Jose. And the fate of the city’s police force after pension reform could hang in the balance at city council meetings in the next year.
He doesn’t expect things to get physical, but he’s ready if it does.
The shield is coming out of the closet. It’s going up on the wall of his new office.