Q: Tell me what you know about Richard Choi Bertsch.
Wakabayashi: ...Richard occupies a kind of middle position in the
Korean community. He is not of that generation that is one of the elders, nor
is he one of the younger people. But he's also sort of old enough to be viewed
as an adult, not like a young buck, successful enough to be regarded and taken
seriously by the elders.
So he's one of these people who can broker the kind of situation in the Korean
immigrant community that has the divisions between the first generation that
hold the purse strings and the power and the second generation, or the 1.5
generation that is here that plays a more activist, more integrated
role....Richard is that kind of bridge.
Q: A Korean equivalent of you? Or Huang in the Chinese community?
Wakabayashi: Closer to a Huang, I think. I mean, John's not an elder,
he's younger than that, but he occupies a position where he can go back and
forth generationally. But each community's a little different. The
generational dominance is much more significant in terms of getting access to
fundraising because there's a larger immigrant population....
...In the Chinese community the economic infrastructure, meaning banks and all
that, is much more developed. So John...can deliver more because the community
has more banks. The Korean community does not - it's much more of a small
business rather than financial profile.
Q: Do you think APAC had a lot of cash?
Wakabayashi: No, we really scrimped on the kind of operational things
that we were doing. No, it didn't have a great flow of cash.
Q: Where did what money you had come from, other than the big event?
Wakabayashi: My understanding is that there was initial seed money that
[the] DNC provided, and there were these smaller events that provided some
revenue, small receptions at $10-a-head kind of thing with food donated. The
overhead wasn't that much either for what was going on there.
Q: How much in DNC money, do you know?
Wakabayashi: I don't have a picture of that. We never had any
financials. I think it's wrong to characterize it as an organization because
it didn't reach that level. It had a title called APAC-Vote because that
worked, but it's really very much like other campaign entities; that is,
Q: Did you ever have a business dealing with the Lums?
Wakabayashi: No. That would be unlikely anyway. I'm a civil service
bureaucrat. There's not that kind of access to anything where you can go into
business with me. It's more the other way around, you're going to have to give
me something to make that work. So, no. Some of the things I've heard alluded
to, quite frankly, I feel a bit almost embarrassed. I mean, I missed all of
that going on?...
Q: If it was a front for some sort of nefarious activities, would you have
known about it?
Wakabayashi: I don't think so....There hasn't been anything in the Los
Angeles Asian community that's raised that kind of anxiety. So I don't think
people have been skeptical or scrutinized it....I think there was a general
sense that the Lums had personal wealth, but that was separated, I think, at
least what people perceived it, from APAC-Vote.
Q: What do you mean in a general sense they were believed to have had
Wakabayashi: Even by being able to be here, away from home. I had some
understanding that Gene Lum was involved in some golf course development,
something like that. There was just a sense that they had some level of wealth
just to be able to not have regular jobs.
Q: Did they dress well?
Wakabayashi: Stylish or well or expensive? I'm not Mr. Blackwell. And
they're from Hawaii, we have very different tastes. I mean, they didn't dress
badly, but I wouldn't characterize that they dressed well.
Q: What kind of a car were they renting?
Wakabayashi: I don't remember the exact car but it wasn't one of the
compacts....My general recollection [is that] it's a car that you go, "Oh,
that's a nice car," compared to what I drive.
Q: Where did they live when they were here?
Wakabayashi: My understanding was they were living in a hotel....I
think it was the Holiday Inn...
Q: This whole thing is being played by the national press as the Clinton
Administration first got interested in Asians and fundraising after the 1994
mid-term when Newt Gingrich and the Republican revolution took over, and these
guys swung Asia and they came roaring through. In fact, what we're discussing
is something that happened many years before that. Is that right?
Wakabayashi: Yeah, back in the 1980s when the Democrats were not in
power. When people like John Siu were doing heavy fundraising in the
Republican Party, ...Democratic circles were saying, "Look, the Republicans are
doing that, they're treating Asians better than you are."
...I think even some of the Republican fundraising back in the '80s had these
same kind of elements. I mean, like if you kicked in so much you get to sit
down with the President and have coffee or tea or whatever. That's not
different from 1980 than 1996-97....
So from the perspective that I occupy, this is not new stuff, it's shown up
before. It's not surprising to me given the demographics of the community that
there's going to be some mix of foreign money that is going to be difficult to
categorize, even if you want to try and do the right thing, because the right
thing's not very clear in terms of who belongs in what box, and it's sometimes
a technicality....I don't know that there is a substantial difference between
the 1980s and the 1990s in a real world sense.
Q: So when you wake up six years later and you look back on APAC-Vote, do
you have any qualms about what that was all about?
Wakabayashi: Oh, yeah...I think the qualms are there.....but the qualms
are really much more... that you can get beat up so badly publicly like John
has ....My sense of John Huang is that he's just a basic decent guy and as I
knew him in LA, he was trying to help build community and doing some small
part...something that was fairly innocent and simple.
Q: Has it hurt the Asian community?
Wakabayashi: Probably. I think there's other kinds of ways that Asians
become less likely to participate politically, that the nail that sticks up
....I think we're seeing a downturn in corporate good citizenship on the part
of Asian companies because they're afraid. Before they were afraid not to
contribute because they were going to be seen as not being corporate good
citizens if they don't. Now they're being afraid to contribute because there'd
be something else sitting out there that'll come bite them....
...I think it's done deep damage. I think you're seeing Asian communities just
pulling their heads back into their shells, which is not a good thing in a
Q: What are your feelings about Gene and Nora now?
Wakabayashi: I think I feel very mixed and anxious....I don't have all
the information, so I'm careful about judgment, but in an emotional sense I
feel a sense that I hope that all this stuff is wrong, that they're really just
good folks, that a weird twist happened there as well.
On the other hand, if there are things that went on that used the process for a
narrower benefit, one that's hurt the community, I think that's going to be
Q: After the elections, [Nora] heads off with a list of more than 100 names
to Washington. She goes into the White House, she meets with Bruce
Lindsey.....Did she ever say things during the campaign like, "After we win
we're going to get Asians on the Cabinet, I'm going to participate in it. Ron
has promised me that we can go forward." Was there an implicit promise in any
way of a quid pro quo for her and Gene's hard work?
Wakabayashi: There's nothing I understood as a quid pro quo on it. I
understood clearly that that was an agenda that we wanted, that we would want
to see more Asians appointed, Cabinet level, sub-Cabinet, but just generally,
and that Nora was back in Washington following the inauguration...
Q: Were you on that list?
Wakabayashi: ...I don't know if I was or not, but I think I could very
likely have been on that list.
Q: When Trish and Melinda got jobs back there, were you surprised?
Wakabayashi: ...I wasn't surprised that Melinda got a job. In fact, I
think from an Asian perspective we were a bit disgruntled that Melinda was not
put into a position much more quickly because we saw her as being the primary
person in the Asian community that worked the campaign and...both symbolically
as well as operationally ought to be placed, and she wasn't placed for a long
time.....To this day, I didn't know Trish was appointed to anything or had a
Q: She became Ron's secretary. Did Nora and Gene make a difference in Los
Angeles Asian-American politics?
Wakabayashi: No, I don't think there's been a major consequence. It
was a blip that took place during a Presidential campaign.....