Just Forget Everything You Know About Him: ‘Pringle is a Good Guy’!

jordan brandman depicted with framed photo of curt pringle

This is a composite photo-illustration. This pose did not actually happen — that we know of. We HOPE that this did not happen, anyway. It is sort of plausible, though.

The absence of Latinos in the City’s Charter Review Committee is surprising, as we have been eloquently complaining about our exclusion from adequate representation. Not even our good Mayor appointed one of us.  The composition of this committee, all whites, has reopened discussion on race and on the CVRA (California Voting Rights Act); a recent discussion is taking place in the Voice of OC.

My take on this is that I am a “gavacho”- (white-) looking Latino who would not vote for a Latino “just because.”  I did not vote for Steve Chavez Lodge — and I would not vote for him in any kind of electoral system. As a bloc, Latinos in Anaheim are under-represented. Our voting registration and votes do not reflect our population size; who knows when this situation will change. In the meantime, the current at-large election system perpetuates the under-representation and disenfranchisement. Its proposed replacement by an at-large districts system, the Santa Ana system, will maintain this pattern.

The appointment of the controversial former Mayor Curt Pringle, currently a lobbyist, to this Charter Review Committee is also surprising. He is perceived as the force orchestrating the crucial decisions taken by the city council:  the reluctance to create district councils to enhance our democracy; the opposition to a Civilian Police Review Board; the firing of the City Attorney and the resignation of the previous City Manager; the subsidies to developers; the appointments of anti-immigrants advocates in the election committee and now in the charter review committee.

I did not know about Pringle’s influence until I got involved in the last council election.  I knew that he had been Mayor twice, that he was involved in the placing of security guards at some Santa Ana polling places when he run for state office, and that years later he was supporting the opening of a Mexican superstore in Anaheim which had been denied a liquor license. He has been demonized by his critics, called by some as the “whitest man alive”, and it has been that his “ghost” presides in the council chamber.

Who is this man vilified by many? Wikipedia provides a summary of his background:

Pringle, a Republican, a onetime Speaker of the California State Assembly, former Mayor of Anaheim, California and former Chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority, today runs his own public relations and government affairs firm, Curt Pringle & Associates… As a young man, Pringle ran, unsuccessfully, three times for a seat on the Garden Grove City Council. In 1986, while working for his parents’ drapery business, Pringle ran unopposed for the Orange County Republican Central Committee, which is the controlling organ of the county Republican Party. In 1988, the Republican nominee for Pringle’s Assembly district, freshman incumbent Assemblyman Dick Longshore, died the day after the June primary election, and under California law the central committee members were charged with selecting a replacement. They chose Pringle.

Pringle took office as a state assemblyman in December 1988 at the age of 29. In 1990, he was defeated for re-election by Democrat Tom Umberg, but after legislative district lines were drawn between Pringle and Umberg’s houses following the 1990 census, Pringle ran again for the Assembly in 1992 and won. Pringle worked his way up the Republican hierarchy, and in 1996, after a protracted power struggle between Republicans and former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, he was elected Speaker of the Assembly. According to Brown, Pringle was the last Speaker to wield broad power in that office, since rule changes immediately after Pringle’s tenure transferred much of the Speaker’s authority to committee chairmen. Pringle, for example, issued committee assignments to both parties’ members, controlled State Assembly funds, and had broad administrative authority

In 2002, Pringle re-entered electoral politics with his campaign for Mayor of Anaheim, California, the tenth-most populous city in the state…During his tenure as mayor, Pringle and the Anaheim City Council over which he presided enacted a number of reforms that The Orange County Register depicted as “freedom-friendly.” According to the Los Angeles Times, “Pringle has built such a strong reputation for his aggressive pro-business approach to governance (creative tax waivers, sweeping zone changes, market incentives to redevelop run-down parts of the city) that other local officials have coined a verb for his philosophy: ‘to Pringle-ize.’

This summary indicates that Pringle rose to power by cunningly navigating the political institutions, accumulated political and economic wealth using the authority vested on his offices, either as Assembly Speaker or City Mayor. A career as an elected politician prepared him well to establish his consulting business. These are the main reasons for Pringle’s success.

Pringle’s empire building did not necessarily require the cooperation of Latino community leaders, as has been argued by the OC Weekly‘s editor, Gustavo Arellano. The Gigante controversy helped him; it got my attention even though I was not following the city politics so closely. I did not think badly of Nativo Lopez and Mr. Amin David, who as community leaders had to navigate the political waters to achieve some results. The ACLU lawsuit shows that it did not much matter what reasonable steps they tried to take; the political power in the city was not going to address the fundamental problems.

Disenfranchisement or “victimization”, which Gustavo questions in his latest Weekly criticism of Dr. Moreno, permeates many aspects of our life, including Gustavo’s.  He wrote in his “Anaheim’s Tragic Kingdom” piece:

I try to not write about Anaheim politics, mostly because I have kith and kin who work for the city, and I want to shield them from any retribution caused by my rants, but mostly because—for once—the anger that accumulated over the years about what’s going on rendered me silent.

The argument of the Weekly, that “vendidos” (sold-out)  Latinos helped Pringle to create his empire and ruin Anaheim, is not a serious one. It does not explain the fundamental reasons that Pringle rose to power.

Many people consider Pringle’s business unethical: he takes advantage of public funds to finance highly questionable projects while profiting from fees as a consultant. One of the earlier such projects was high-speed rail. According to the LA Times:

Two prominent California High-Speed Rail Authority leaders who are already under scrutiny for holding potentially “incompatible” public offices have received tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees from firms with financial interests in the $43-billion project…”  Rail board chairman and Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle has been an advisor to a major construction supplier. Fellow board member Richard Katz also works as a consultant and for several years has advised Walt Disney Co., a major backer of the project 

Pringle’s business relationship with the Disney Company and his influence on the city’s council members, the latter of which culminated in the approval of the $158 city subsidy to one of his clients, have been documented in several places, including this article from Orange Juice Blog.  That influence cuts across party lines.

At one of the council candidates’ forums I had a brief conversation about Pringle with then-DPOC-endorsed candidate and now-City Council member Jordan Brandman. I told him my observations and reservations.  His reply was: Pringle is a good guy.”  His appointment to the city Charter Review Committee by Brandman completes the circle of their mutual dependence. Pringle, through Brandman and Ms. Kris Murray, continues to exert his influence in the council. Brandman has become what many had already predicted, a puppet of Pringle. His record clearly indicates that he pays lip service to the promises he made to support change; he has consistently voted to maintain the status benefiting businesses and issues associated with Pringle & Associates. The steamrolling approach used by the majority of the council, isolating the Mayor, has divided the city even more.

Pringle is a major player in our city politics. The question is how much longer his negative influence will continue to prevail. It took years for him to build his network, and to establish policies that made Anaheim a heaven for business opportunities for some, at the expenses of the city as a whole. The two Anaheims — the very affluent one mostly in the hills, and the other Anaheim composed mostly working class Latino communities in the flatlands — are to a large extent a result of these policies.

Hopefully it will not take years to democratize our politics, to stop career politicians and businesses from ripping off government resources. Orange County, and Anaheim, have significantly changed since the days when Pringle was associated with posting security guards at polling stations. Demographic changes place the Latino population in the unique role of playing a pivotal role in improving Anaheim politics. It is estimated that 53% of the city is Latino. We can, and we should, bring about change to create jobs with a living wage, to fix the neglected neighborhoods, to address the roots causes of crime and gangs, to change the APD’s insensitive culture towards our community, and to establish a trusting relationship.

Electoral and grassroots organizing are the methods that usually bring about change. Both the Republican and Democratic parties contain people aware of the need to change the politics of our city.  Let’s hope that their county’s central committees take action on this direction. At election time, voters’ registration campaigns and a coalition for change needs to take place, supporting the adequate candidates. We cannot afford to dilute our votes on unknown candidates with Latino-sounding names, nor can we split the votes among well-meaning but non-electable ones. The district level electoral system should produce candidates who better knows the specific needs of the communities. Until then, as the civil rights movement proved, politicians change their positions when communities organize themselves and advocate for change.

Let’s heal our city by stepping forward to this challenge. Let’s stop the Curt Pringle & Associates approach of dividing a city for the enrichment of a few.

In the words of Dr King:

Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.

Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.

Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

About Ricardo Toro

Anaheim resident for several decades. In addition to political blogging, another area of interest is providing habitats for the Monarch butterfly. http://www.orangejuiceblog.com/2013/12/caterpillars-crossing-in-a-city-at-a-crossroads/