Steve Choi Takes the Low Road

Watching Irvine City Council member Steven Choi on the dais at City Council meetings has become something of a sport.  He is a rambling speaker, often unable to complete a thought or idea before meandering like an out-of-control river.  He shows no respect for other council members who have the floor, often interrupting them to answer questions that they haven’t asked. And, recently, he refused to put away his Blackberry after being asked to by the Mayor and advised on the rules of having such devices while in his seat on the Irvine City Council (who is texting you Steven?).  It’d be funny if it wasn’t sad. 
At last week’s council meeting, Council member Sukhee Kang alluded to a letter sent by Choi that admonished Ms. Min Chai, Kang’s representative to the City Finance Commission, for “personally and directly insulting” Choi during a May 13 Council meeting.  Choi’s interruptions, after being warned once, led to a recess so cooler heads could prevail. But Choi’s letter to Board Members of the Orange County Korean American Bar Association (OC KABA) reminds me of the sexism that briefly emerged during the First District Supervisor’s special election between Janet Nguyen and Trung Nguyen, because Trung’s family had a higher social stature than Janet’s.Some background first. (and it comes after the jump)

Choi sought to agendize a resolution calling for the Irvine City Council to recommend that Congress pass the proposed Korean-US Free Trade Agreement at the May 13 Council meeting.  This is not municipal business and there is a city ordinance against taking a non-municipal matter before for the city council.  But that didn’t deter Choi’s efforts.

Choi even encouraged members of the Korean community to attend the city council meeting to place pressure on Council Member Sukhee Kang not to vote against the measure — even though its not city business.

After identifying herself as “the current president of the OC KABA and a member of the city’s Finance Commission, Ms. Min Chai addressed the council that she was speaking as a member of the Korean-American community in Irvine and was there to address Choi’s advocacy of the FTA.  Chai provided the council with some background on the FTA and detailed Choi’s efforts to have this item included on the council agenda, even after being told it was not a municipal matter.

Chai pointed out the Choi is free to take a public position on matters of non-municipal concern but he could not make it part of the city’s business.  Chai asked that Choi “attempt to formulate his initiative in a more conductive manner, one in which will bring the community together rather than splitting them up in to political factions.”  Compare this suggestion for Council member Choi to the actions of Council member Kang.  Sukhee Kang, understanding that KOR-US FTA was not a municipal issue, personally went out and worked with the Korean American community to organize events to garner broad support for the FTA. Kang sent more than 500 letters to entire members of Congress and Senate advocating support for the FTA, while Choi didn’t do a thing to promote this pressing issue with the Korean American community.

This agenda item wasn’t about Choi supporting FTA but about hijacking his fellow Korean-American Councilman’s initiative to trying and damage Kang’s credibility with the Korean-American community. Choi’s failure was on full display during the public comments portion of the meeting.

Choi sent out emails to key Korean American leaders suggesting that they come and fill the Council Chamber and urged them to make public comments to pressure Kang from voting “No” without ever explaining why he (Choi) was supporting the FTA. Choi had hoped for dozens of public comments.  He got one.  His own senior council representative spoke in favor of the FTA.  It leads me to believe Choi has little credibility in the Korean-American, and little respect.

And while Chai’s entire public comment was not insulting, Choi likely took exception to Chai’s closing statement where she said:

“To denounce a fellow council member for not joining him in his efforts to violate a City’s Ordinance to accomplish a certain objective proves that Councilman Choi’s true objectives and agenda in bringing the issue to the table is not necessarily to advocate the FTA but to provoke the other members of the Council…..this action can also be construed as his effort to personally attack Councilman Kang at such a critical time in his political career.”

>p>In a June 6 letter written on city letterhead, Choi wrote to each member of the OCKA Bar Association’s Board to express his outrage against Ms. Chai.  I have the Letter, but I don’t want to bust my source or the law firm that provided their copy least they incur the Wrath of Choi, so the transcript of the letter is below. 

Choi wrote:

I wish to bring a matter to your attention concerning the City of Irvine Council meeting held this past May 13.A bit of background: For that meeting, I had agendized a Resolution for the City Council recommending that the US Congress pass the proposed Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement.  To my amazement and dismay, Councilmembers Sukhee Kang and Larry Agran and Beth Krom took exception to my Resolution, claiming that the Free Trade Agreement was not a municipal matter.  The argued – and ultimately voted – against even discussing the Agreement.Ms. Min Chai formally addressed the City Council, and in doing so, went out of her way to personally and directly insult me.  I bring this to your attention, because she prefaced her statements by introducing herself as “the current president of the Orange County Korean American Bar Association,” and that introduction provided the context for her offensive remarks.

Ms. Chai was appointed to the Irvine Finance Commission by Councilmember Kang, so she may have felt compelled to support his desire to avoid voting on the Free Trade Agreement or even whether it was a municipal matter.  Instead, she made her very personal attacks on me under the banner of OC KABA.

Of course, Ms. Chai has a right to voice any political view, and in fact, to insult any elected official she chooses.  I do not quarrel with that in any way.  However, I do believe that tying an organization, whose purpose is not political, such as OC KABA, to any specific political view should be done with great care and then only with after specific direction of its Board of Directors.

One point to remember is that I am a Korean-American elected official who strives to work with all of you, individuals and organizations, for the betterment of our community. It is my opinion that Min Chai, as the head of OC KABA, totally misrepresented your organization, by which I was offended and saddened.

However, I must ask each member of the directors and offices if President Min Chai’s speech at the Irvine City Council meeting, which was publicly televised, was OC KABA’s official position.

Please read the separately attached full transcript of Min Chai’s speech, as well as the article published in the Korea Times.

Steven Choi, Ph. D.
Council member.

Some points of note:

  • Min Chai never said she as representing the OC KABA, but correctly identified her position with the group among others.
  • Min Chai never said she was communicating OC KABA’s position
  • Min Chai said you were free to champion the FTA in other ways that were non-municipal
  • Min Chai suggested you promote the FTA in a way that unites the community, not divides it.
  • If you were insulted, it was more likely because she was a woman addressing you in a manner you did not appreciate.

The side note is Min Chai received significant support from members of the OC KABA board after this letter came to light.