This month, Mario Mainero, the controversial chief of staff to County Supervisor John Moorlach officially called it quits and transitioned quietly back into life as a law school professor at Chapman University.
Quiet was the one thing that Mainero was not when he was working for Moorlach.
Though a Republican, he often fought battles from his heart, not necessarily the GOP playbook.
Following inmate John Chamberlain’s death, Mainero ran to the county jail to personally investigate lax security for inmates. He initiated lawsuits against pension benefits for deputy sheriffs and challenged the district attorney over the death penalty.
It was an interesting record over four years, and one that got on the radar map of just about every interest group in town.
Mainero became famous on the fifth floor for bursts of anger followed by resignations, which were often rescinded by the end of the week. Then about a year ago, he stepped down as chief of staff and went on part-time going to Chapman law school to teach bar preparation classes.
This month, the part-time status fell away as well. And the exit is final, Mainero said.
“We accomplished a lot,” said Moorlach.
Others see it differently. Mainero was brash and often walked into fights without understanding their implications…for him or Moorlach. Many, including Republicans, Democrats, union leaders and interest groups, didn’t like Mainero’s aggressive — and sometimes insulting — tone.
And Mainero didn’t exactly like the push and pull, or fisticuffs of politics. It was a far cry from being a law school professor in charge of students who couldn’t exactly punch back when the professor took them down a notch.
At the county, everybody punches back.
As a diagnosed diabetic, Mainero’s blood sugar went on a spiral frequently and his temper often got the better of him. “It took a toll on my health,” he said.
Said Moorlach: “There are certain stresses that come with this job that he didn’t feel like dealing with anymore. He’s sort of an academic, sincere, almost childlike kind of guy.”
Childlike is how many would describe Mainero’s ability to walk through political minefields without acknowledging the risks.
“Intellectually, I’m well aware there are red button issues in both parties,” he said. “That’s part of the problem when you have parties who try to enforce ideological conformity. What that fails to understand is that voters aren’t entirely consistent with the platform of either party.”
Yet Mainero never had much patience with the circus quality of local politics.
For example, when hundreds of union members crowded into the fifth floor of the supervisors building in the midst of a controversial remodel, most chiefs of staff watched the protest from inside their office.
Mainero, though, stepped into the main lobby and gave television cameras a show as he debated fiercely with Orange County Employees Association General Manager Nick Berardino.
“From early on, I questioned whether I belonged doing this,” Mainero said this week while grading exams at Chapman Law School. “What surprised me the most was the open-mindedness of John Moorlach.”
Mainero acknowledged that his boss and political mentor had to deal with the fallout from many of the battles he initiated.
“I didn’t think that was fair to John,” Mainero said. “I thought it was about time to go back to what I love doing.”
— NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.