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I don’t really have a horse in the possibly upcoming race between Miguel Pulido and David Benavides for Santa Ana Mayor. [Note: spelling of "Benavides" corrected. Thanks to Art Pedroza for catching it.] I’d be glad to see a race of any kind. With uncompetitive Congressional and Assembly races, it might be the only thing that can stir Santanans to come out and vote — hopefully armed by both campaigns with instructions to also vote Yes on 30 and No on 32. So I welcome the news of a serious challenger.
Benavides and Pulido are both, in different ways, too conservative for my taste (which would probably please both of them.) Benevides hasn’t been publicly preparing for this; were I of a conspiratorial bent, I would suspect that he may simply be in the race to keep Claudia Alvarez from jumping in by splitting the anti-Pulido vote with her. (If I were hyper-conspiratorial, I’d wonder if Sal Tinajero, who reportedly also took out papers on Monday but did not have a press release and the rest of the trimmings, may be considering running to split the vote and prevent Benavides from winning — something that we may have to start calling a “Martinez maneuver.”
I know that Benavides is a probable longshot, especially given his political alliance with disgraced Republican Carlos Bustamante. It’s tempting to dismiss his chances summarily. But just to play out the scenario, I can think of one sentence that Benavides could utter that might actually give him a fighting chance in November:
“I pledge not to run for re-election in 2014.”
That, potentially, could upend the game. (Benavides could run for re-election to his Council post that year, or for some other office — maybe SD-34, where if he lost in the primary he could still run for Council? — or he’s young enough that he could bide his time. See my suggestion below.) What it does do, though, is get the jackals salivating. If Benavides served just a single term — not ruling out running again in 2016 but pledging not to run in 2014 — it would mean an open seat in 2014. How many people would be interested in that? Pulido might well run again as well, but then he’d run saddled with his having lost the seat in 2012, along with the losing patina of invincibility that he has long enjoyed.
What’s the point of serving for one term? He could fumigate the place. He could direct teams of staff (chosen to include people from factions that don’t like each other) to go through all of the filing cabinets and closets, and the locked computer files and ledger books, and direct the Audit to End All Audits to get a sense of just how Santa Ana has been run for the past couple of decades.
People have told me since I first alighted at the Drinking Liberally table in early 2007 that Pulido was hopelessly corrupt, but I don’t actually know that he is. People seem to say that about almost everyone in Orange County politics, perhaps in part to blunt the impact of such charges if ever made against them, and there were some people at that table whose dedication to the impartial truth I’ve since come to question. So I come to no firm conclusions about how Pulido has run the city since first becoming its first Latino Mayor in 1994. I’d like to think that he’s run it honestly and well, not for his personal enrichment. But — I’d also like to, you know, know.
I don’t think that I (or anyone outside of the inner reaches of City Hall) will ever really know what the past 18 years of Santa Ana City Government have been like while Miguel Pulido remains Mayor. This doesn’t say anything sinister about him; it just means that people working in City Hall who actually know what’s going on seem to keep their mouths shut and discourage poking around. (I don’t know this from personal experience, but I have heard it often.) Maybe Santa Ana City Government is actually as transparent as it possibly could be — I really can’t say.
But maybe it isn’t. A lot of people might show up in anonymous comments and assume us all that it is corrupt — or that it isn’t corrupt — and I don’t believe either of them without further proof. But I do know that there’s a sense afoot that all is not right — and that that creates problems for trust in government whether it’s true or not.
One solution, therefore, is to send Pulido on a two-year vacation and give the city a checkup. Benavides is actually well-placed to do this. Maybe I’m out of the loop, but while I hear people slam his decision-making sometimes — he alone on the Council has not yet called for Bustamante to resign — my sense is that there’s a general respect for his intelligence and honesty. (Those of you who might be snorting at that, the comments section is just below. Say what you think you must.) He might be a good choice to shake the dirt loose from the city so we can see what’s underneath. I don’t think he’d do too much damage, either, in two years — Lord knows he’d be watched carefully enough.
But that “I won’t run two years from now” provision is key. If his fellow Council members, or other ambitious figures, think that he is trying to climb out of the crab pot and set himself up as the long-term successor to Pulido, they will pull him back into the pot and he’s going to lose. (You can already go to Art Pedroza’s blog and see the sharpened knives in action against him.) But there’s another model of public service to employ, that of Cincinattus.
Cincinnatus, after whom the Ohio city of Cleveland was named (joke!), was an aristocratic hero of early Rome. He suffered a political setback when his son was convicted of a capital crime, whereupon he retired to his modest farm. Rome was invaded and its leaders called him in to serve as its dictator. Once he had defeated the rival tribes, he resigned his office and returned to his plow.
As Wikipedia puts is (so you know it must be true), “his immediate resignation of his absolute authority with the end of the crisis has often been cited as an example of outstanding leadership, service to the greater good, civic virtue, lack of personal ambition and modesty.”
That certainly seems to be how the deeply religious (and evangelical) Benavides sees himself. He’s a lot younger than Cincinnatus was; he still has a political career ahead of him. If he implements reforms and transparency in one two-year term, he’d be seen as heroic; maybe he’d be well-placed for 2016, facing off against Pulido or whoever succeeded in him 2014. There would still be more or less on open seat in 2014 for which a lot of people have been waiting. If he wants to win, he just needs to be clear that he’s going to give others a fair shot at it too.
Chances are that he’s not going to beat Pulido anyway — but this strikes as his best chance to win and his best path to lose, if he does, with dignity and honor. Can he utter this fateful sentence — and, if he did so, would it matter? I’m fairly confident that we’ll see some opinions on these and other matters below.