By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
"I don't have a lot to say about Janet Nguyen," Dina Nguyen says. "We had a confrontation where it was not very friendly. It was about how my fund-raiser lady was using her personal list of [donors], and I had no idea about that, and it was public record anyways. I'm not one to use other people's resources, and I have my own funds. She got very upset. She said very un-nice things."
According to one former Janet Nguyen supporter, Janet did everything she could to prevent Dina from winning her seat. "It was jealousy, selfishness, insecurity," the source says. "In politics, you work as a team. We don't live in a dictatorship; we live in a democracy. You work with people."
One person who claims he earned Janet's wrath for supporting Dina was Paul Lucas, an environmental consultant and political operative who says he admired Janet Nguyen until she yelled at him in public. "Basically, she didn't want to be sharing the spotlight of being the first Vietnamese-American woman on the Garden Grove City Council," he says. "That's the level of pettiness. It's embarrassing to even say these things because, normally, you don't attribute these things to adults."
Another was Janet Nguyen's former boss, Maddox, who consulted for Dina Nguyen's successful city council race shortly after he left the state legislature. "She kind of unloaded on me and, quite frankly, screamed at me over the phone, how dare I do it? I explained that this is how I earn my living, and [Dina Nguyen] is a qualified candidate."
Maddox says he's no longer on speaking terms with Janet Nguyen. "Frankly, I just got tired of her screaming at me," he says. "You can't go around as an elected official picking fights just to pick fights. This isn't high school.
"Janet is extremely ambitious, and that ambition is not tempered by maturity," he adds. "She has just managed to burn every bridge around here on her own."
Andrew Do, Nugyen's chief of staff, denied that there was any rivalry between his boss and Dina Nguyen, saying that the only issue of conflict involved Dina Nguyen's "improper" use of Janet Nguyen's contributer list, which was provided to Dina by Janet's former fundraiser. "This list included, among others, the supervisor's donors, close friends and extended family members from past fundraisers and from the supervisor's own wedding guest list that were not for public dissemination," Do says. "Understandably, the supervisor was distressed over such an apparent breach of confidentiality."
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By all accounts, including her own, Nguyen's spectacular falling-out with her former allies in the Orange County Republican Party reached the point of no return when she announced her desire to run in the special election for the First District county supervisor seat vacated by Lou Correa, who left the post for a successful run for the state senate. "Everybody was a supporter of Janet originally because she was brought up as the female face of the Van Tran camp," says Hao-Nhien Vu, an editor with Little Saigon's Nguoi Viet Daily News. "She wanted to be supervisor, but Trung Nguyen was older and closer to Van Tran, so they decided Trung is going to run for supervisor. If that seat didn't open up, she would probably still be in the Van Tran camp."
Almost immediately after Nguyen made her announcement, she received telephone calls from both Tran and Michael Schroeder asking her to back down. A source close to Janet Nguyen's campaign claims that both Tran and Schroeder called her and begged her not to run against Trung Nguyen, a Garden Grove School District board member backed by Tran.
The source further alleges that when Janet refused to back out of the race, Schroeder told her he'd "destroy" her.
Nguyen refuses to confirm that story. "Are you asking, did I have a conversation with Mike Schroeder? Yes," she says, adding that she also received a similar call from Tran. "Honestly, they said, 'We are supporting Trung; we are not supporting you. Get out of the race.'"
Schroeder denies any such conversation took place, but he doesn't hide his dislike of Nguyen. "I was one of her political supporters for a long time," he says. "But there was this growing unease that I had with her. She has no set views on anything, no discernible ideology at all other than what serves her at any point. Just blind ambition."
On the morning after election day in February 2007, Nguyen's refusal to back out of the race looked like a bad move. Although she'd shown a strong early lead, Trung Nguyen suddenly pulled ahead as the county registrar began counting absentee ballots, most of them filed by Vietnamese-American voters. When the final count was tallied, Trung Nguyen had beaten her by a mere seven votes. She demanded a recount of the absentee votes and ended up with a three-vote lead, officially winning the race. Immediately, Trung Nguyen contested the final vote count with the Fourth District Court of Appeals. Nguyen formed a legal-defense fund and began raising money to fight her case. On behalf of his client, Schroeder filed a California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) complaint against Nguyen, charging that soliciting donations for such a fund was illegal.