Once, Albert Huang was the pride of his community, a young mayor and only the second Asian American to serve on San Gabriel's City Council. Now he may well be remembered for fighting with a woman at a dumpling house late at night and for being arrested.
At an emotional news conference in his lawyer's office on Tuesday morning, the 35-year-old Huang, who is also an architect and developer, announced his resignation from the San Gabriel City Council. He said he was tired of the bad press he and his family have been getting since his arrest last Friday.
"When I saw someone had posted a picture of my daughter on the Internet, it is when a line has been crossed," Huang said, reading softly from a prepared statement in English. He then added in Chinese, "I don't want my family to be hurt anymore. I will sacrifice anything to protect them."
Huang's face contorted and he seemed on the verge of crying when Betty Mui, the widow of Huang's former mentor, stood at the podium to speak on his behalf.
Mui's husband, Chi Mui, was a respected community leader who had high hopes for Huang. Mui died in 2006, just a month after becoming the city's first Asian mayor. Huang replaced Mui on the City Council and then won reelection in 2007. His rotation as mayor began this spring.
"I know Albert," said Betty Mui, as she choked back tears and stopped to compose herself. "Albert did a lot to accomplish what Chi left behind. This is a great loss to the community."
Since Huang was released on $100,000 bail Friday after being arrested on suspicion of felony battery, assault and robbery, the Chinese-language media have been abuzz with tales of the alleged altercation and the mystery woman with whom Huang scuffled. Reports have said that she is his girlfriend, that they have bickered in public before and that she runs a foot massage parlor. None of it could be confirmed.
Huang is separated from his wife, Maryann Chen, and is said to be in the middle of a divorce and child custody proceedings.
He has not been formally charged in Friday's incident. At the news conference, he and his lawyer, Daniel Deng, declined to talk about the fight that allegedly started about 1 a.m. inside a San Gabriel dumpling house and continued on the street, with Huang snatching the woman's purse and driving off as she clung to the side of his SUV.
"It's a private matter that has nothing to do with his capacity as mayor," said Deng. "He wants to prove his innocence in court."
Baogang Li, the owner of the New Taste Dumpling House, said he had no idea that the couple seated at one of the tables against the wall would attract so much attention to his restaurant.
"I thought they were husband and wife," said Li. "The waiter that night told me they had ordered one steamer of soup dumplings and one order of pot stickers. But apparently only he ate and she didn't."
Li was in the kitchen cooking when he heard the sound of a metal steamer basket crashing to the ground. His waiter told him the woman hurled a steamer containing at least three soup dumplings at Huang. He retaliated by pouring a little dish of vinegar on her.
"I heard the woman scream, 'Call the police!' " said Li. "I've seen couples argue before, so I didn't think we needed to call the cops. If they were on the floor fighting, I would have done something."
Asked what they thought about the mayor's arrest, some customers at the dumpling house one evening this week seemed surprised.
"It would be unthinkable in China," said a college student from Mainland China who would give only his last name, Lin. "In China, no police would dare arrest a mayor."
But this is America. And soon after leaving the restaurant, Huang was nabbed by a security guard from the Red Rose, a karaoke nightclub across the street that is also known as the Turning Point. The guard apparently saw him speed off with a woman clinging to the side of his SUV and gave chase.
According to police, Huang and his female companion fought over her purse. Then he tried to drive off with it, first in her car, then in his. She wouldn't let him go and perched on the running board of his SUV, hanging on as he sped off at 45 mph.
"If you are going to be the mayor, you got to do what's right. There's always somebody out there that's going to be watching," said Richard Sanchez, a Red Rose security guard who said he did not know which of his colleagues was on duty the night of the incident.
Born into a well-heeled family in Taiwan, Huang immigrated to California at 9. He founded three real estate development, construction and design companies — Richmont Development Corp., R&Y Construction and Studio R Inc. — before his 25th birthday, according to a company website.
Some in the San Gabriel Valley Chinese community are worried about potential fallout from Huang's case, especially given that former Temple City mayor Judy Wong recently pleaded no contest to soliciting and taking bribes.
"It is definitely embarrassing," said Jason Lee, a lawyer who ran for City Council in Arcadia. "But I don't think this is a fatal setback. It is an isolated individual incident. It doesn't mean that all Asian Americans will act like that."
David Lau, a council member in Monterey Park, said it is premature to condemn Huang before he has his day in court.
"We need to be fair and impartial," said Lau. "We haven't heard his side of the story yet."