Mai Drops Bid to Stay on Irvine Child Care Committee

1. The Statement

This story, I promise you, is going to be weird, but it’s also valid grist for reporting: James Mai, whom you may recall being discussed a bit on this blog last year, has given up his bid to be reappointed to Irvine’s Child Care Committee. That may not seem newsworthy by itself, but its notability involves what it may portend for his future — and thus for AAPI politics in OC (and beyond.) Here’s an email from him:

From: James Mai 
Sent: Wednesday, January 25, 2023 12:48 AM
To: Traci Stubbler; Diana Magallon;  Cc: Child Care Office; Cory Hilderbrand; Your Irvine
Subject: Thank you Irvine Childcare Members and CSC – James Mai

 I hope this finds you well!

Sorry for the delay, as I was on a business trip out-of-state for the past few weeks and just getting back. This message is regarding my application for reappointment to the Irvine Child Care Committee. 

As you know, I am involved in many organizations within the community, county, and state. Things in my life are fluid as my time/bandwidth is limited (especially with volunteer work), and I often take on too much. As of this week, I was elected to serve as Chairman of a Children’s Foundation, which received an IRS 501c3 designation last month. I am still serving as Chairman for AAPI United focusing on victims of hate crimes and diversity issues. I am the new Vice Chairman of OC/LA Rotary Foundation, and now working with the UN and its local chapters. Because of the time commitment to these new roles, I would like to withdraw my application for appointment to the Irvine Child Care Committee. 

I would like to thank the entire committee for voting on a recommendation for reappointment, last month. 

Additionally, I would like to thank you for backing me despite the controversy of late, thank you for speaking up for me even at risk to your own well-being. Irvine Police Department has done an excellent job also, clearing any wrongdoing on my part (incident or act).The political attacks and smear campaigns, unfortunately, disrupted many of our meetings. It was very unfair for you as volunteers to be attacked by individuals on a personal and professional level; no one should go through that or ever be threatened.  I believe these attacks on you will cease now that I am no longer part of the committee.  Still, I remember the times before all of this, and it was productive and fun working with you all on these critical issues for children in the city.  My sons thought it was “awesome” that dad was helping other parents and kids in the town.  

I’ve enjoyed the past two years with each and every member of the committee, and we made an impact on many parents in the community.  This was a goal I strived to achieve (and the entire reason for being part of this committee) when I volunteered to be a parent representative.  As you know, my community-based group, “Irvine Life,” has over 12,000 members/parents in Irvine – the information I learned at our meetings and subsequently passed to the community, helped many people seeking answers and resources. I will continue to provide information from the city to the community that my organization(s) supports, including working with children at CHOC and advocating for Autistic children, and their parents, many in Irvine.

This experience also reaffirmed what I have always said, Irvine is the best place to raise a family and has fantastic resources provided to residents, especially for new parents and those with small children. I wish you all the best of luck and thank you for your commitment to improving the lives of others and the future – our children.

I don’t have everyone’s email so please send them my regards and/or this email. A special shout out to Donna Schwartze, your many years of service to the community and children has been inspiring. Thank you for all you do.

It was fun working with you all!

James Mai 

2. The Interpretation

There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s get to it.

  • Smooth. Mai is as smooth here as he was when I met him in person. He’s quite good at impression management. In fact, that’s why I think that he’s still a story. Working for a united voice among all Asians — or at least East, Southeast, and South Asians (with Central, Gulf, and West Asians left out for now, and North Asians being Russian) is, on its face, a good thing. But “smooth” is not necessarily a good thing in someone ambitious and aiming to fill a gap in the power structure. (You know who else was really smooth? A woman named Melahat Rafiei — who is poised to reenter polite society on a victory and contrition tour, re-establishing her empire, if she can make things break her own way.
  • His Busy Life. He’s back from a long trip! He notes his busy life. What’s keeping him busy?
    1. Chairman of a Children’s Foundation, which received an IRS 501c3 designation last month.

    2. Still serving as Chairman for AAPI United focusing on victims of hate crimes and diversity issues.

    3. New Vice Chairman of OC/LA Rotary Foundation, and now working with the UN and its local chapters.

This would appear to be the delightful resume-stuffing of a successful person whom media and politicians might consider calling upon as a source on issues of the day regarding Asian Americans. But is it? “AAPI United” itself didn’t seem to add up to much once I started looking into it. (Vern made me stop doing that, once he got sick of the story.) [VERN: I DID???] But I recall from that research there were serious questions about AAPI United itself — whether it was simply a Potemkin village, or perhaps the sort of sham charity that gets people into trouble. His “South Asian Director” — critical to him after his having pissed off the Hindu community — never answered my email. So I suspect that we’re going to find out that there is much less to this “busy” designation than meets the eye.

As for the other two, I presume that the unnamed “Children’s Foundation” may either be corrected to AAPI or cut from the same cloth. As for the OC/LA Rotary Foundation, I recall my previous research suggesting that it was “not a thing.”

I don’t present this information out of any antipathy for the Asian/Pacific Islander communities (yes, plural) of OC. I’m married into the latter, after all, and strongly support of Jay Chen and his work with the Taiwanese community. (People without the guts to use their own names seem to love to criticize Jay. I suspect that they’re no more Asian than I am.) I present it because if this guy is going to appoint himself to be the vanguard and tribute on the AAPI community, I want to satisfy the very real questions I have about what he’s doing and why. My antennae would be up at this point even if it weren’t for his bragging about a (probably non-existent, but who knows?) hate crime against Hindus.

  • Thanking his Supporters. I can’t blame his fellow members of this committee for backing him up — especially if he’s a con man and their convinced by him. (Convincing people is what con artists do. Ask Melahat.) But were they really “backing him up,” as opposed to reserving judgment and coping in the meanwhile? I tend to think it’s the latter — and if any of them have really faced “a risk to their own well-being” for not immediately pillorying him before a police report came in, then I want to hear all about it, because that should never have happened. The “thanks to the entire committee for voting to reappoint me” seems to me like a statement that “by the way, you’re all complicit, and any attack on me is an attack on you as well!” No, it really isn’t: he knew information that they did not.
  • Thanking the Police.

This bit is truly Melahat-level shamelessness. The police did not “clear” Mai of any “wrongdoing”; they didn’t find evidence that he had committed the heinous act of desecrating a Hindu-owned restaurant. This was despite the fact that this ironically self-professed opponent of Anti-Asian Hate (which includes Hindus!) bragged about it on the Internet. The police didn’t find anything — as was true of my own prior investigation — because he probably didn’t do it. (Hence my calling him the “Hate Crime Braggart” rather than “Hate Crime Committer.” But the IPD neither considered nor “cleared him” of the offense — which absolutely did happen, by his own omission — of posting a claim on the Internet (a copy of which was later sent to Mrs. Cameron) that he had indeed performed this vile act of desecration. I think one can fairly argue that making this claim publicly does put fear in the Hindu community, and as such may itself constitute a hate crime — but the Irvine police weren’t going to get into that. I’ll put it this way: if he had bragged that he had poured pork blood into the brisket served an Irvine synagogue’s event, IPD would probably have found a way not only to investigate to see if it was true, but also to find a way to charge him with something even if he had been lying about it. (An intentional infliction of emotional distress civil suit would be possible for up to one year.) So Mai — again, a supposed anti-Hate Crime crusader! — does not understand that falsely telling someone that one has committed a hate crime against a group to which they belong is wrong, especially if the person in question has a disability that would make them especially likely to believe and transmit that information. (Mai has perplexingly claimed that he did this to “test” Mrs. Cameron’s loyalty to him. Well: test completed, chump!)

As I’ll mention later on, I think that there was a smear campaign against Mai, but it was a small and largely ineffectual part of the complaints. I haven’t viewed the meetings, but to the extent that people were calling on Committee members to remove him from the committee over what he did, that may in some general sense be a “political attack” in that he had a political role and done something to warrant an attack, but it was not a “smear campaign”; nor was it “disruptive” of committee business, because being responsive to such complaints are part of Committee business. As before, he is trying to tie himself to the welfare of the Committee members.

This is a good place to consider what Mai could have done instead. He could have issued a sincere apology, without trying to justify his behavior, and then asked for forgiveness.

This would have required his explaining why he concocted his story in the first place. That graphic of him didn’t descend to Earth on a cloud from Heaven, after all; someone had to make it! It seems obvious that his intent was to convey an image of himself as powerful, wily, vengeful, and not to be messed with. In other words, while he was part of the anti-Trumpublican faction of Republicans in his area, he was adopting the same sort of chest-thrusting braggadocio that Trump has used to appeal to others. He should have admitted it, recognized that it was wrong, acknowledged the harm done, recognized that it undercut his own credibility as an anti-Hate activist, asked for forgiveness, tried to make amends, and promised to do better in the future. This isn’t brain surgery; it’s just honest contrition. Instead, he decided to tough it out — and any emotional damage to other committee is entirely on his own tab — as is the considerable compounded interest from his not departing right away.

  • By the Way, I Still Have Political Clout Here

You may consider this next point uncharitable of me, but again I have a lot of experience with Melahat. When he says:

As you know, my community-based group, “Irvine Life,” has over 12,000 members/parents in Irvine – the information I learned at our meetings and subsequently passed to the community, helped many people seeking answers and resources. I will continue to provide information from the city to the community that my organization(s) supports

I read it as “I am still around, I am still going to be involved in city politics (and perhaps beyond), and I have extensive reach into the community that form a base for my future political influence.” If he didn’t want to give this impression, he could disband his “group,” hand over control of it to someone who is at arm’s length from him (rather than a supporters), and forswear use of the hefty mailing list he has compiled. My prediction is that he won’t promise do any of it — or that if he does so, he won’t follow through with the latter two conditions that might undercut his own political influence. (Note that I would not argue that he was entitled to do this has he contritely apologized from the outset; I do so because he has demonstrated to be a sharp dealer who only concedes power under massive duress.)

James Mai with defeated Irvine City Council candidate John Park.

3. So How Do We Describe What Has Happened Here?

I’m going to come back later and address what term I think we should use for what James Mai did with his little scenario — as well as what his allies who are pseudonymously attacking Hindus (and their allies) over their criticism of Mai. (Admittedly, there have been Hindus who have attacked Mai pseudonymously as well, but this hasn’t happened in the larger context of someone fantasizing a hate crime as revenge on someone from another religion and culture.)

That perfect term is surprisingly hard to pin down, and I invite people to submit their thoughts in comments. But, I think that what I’ve already written is enough to chew on for now. For now, I’m going to use the term “bigoted bullying.”

Is this act of bigoted bullying enough to want someone to be removed (or induced to retire) from all commission posts? I would answer by flipping the question on its head: is it OK to have people on commissions decide serious questions of people’s fate when they’ve sent around stories crowing of having retaliated against someone by desecrating their business — like smearing a synagogue with pig’s blood?

I think that, put that way, the answer is clearly “no” — it is NOT OK. And so — expecting that Supervisors Sarmiento and Foley would likely agree with me — it is incumbent on Supervisors Wagner, Chaffee, and Do to say why it IS OK. (Frankly, as Supervisor Do comes from the Vietnamese community, I’d think it is up to him to take the lead on this question of intra-Asian relations. Chaffee has shown that he won’t; Wagner has shown that maybe he can’t.) Remember, the offense here is not simply posting the story or DM’ing it to an autistic woman who was likely to freak out about it and wonder how to respond — it was about literally making up a graphic celebrating his doing such an evil deed in the first place.

Left to his own devices, a cool and canny political aspirant like James Mai may turn out quite successful. Do we, as a county, just shrug in the face of this and let him go on doing his thing? Does anyone really think that his “Anti-Asian Hate” group is something that the county or any city should be encouraging?

The right thing to do is to repent, resign, and then perhaps someday retry. Isn’t it, Supervisors?

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)