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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Emanuel Pleitez: An Unconventional Candidate

Melissah Yang |
February 25, 2013 | 1:03 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Melissah Yang/Neon Tommy
Melissah Yang/Neon Tommy
A dozen people shivered in the back of a South Los Angeles home, now a converted church, as rain pummeled the metal canopy above. Blue balloons tied to a gate and a pile of voter pamphlets on a table were the only signs that this was an election campaign event. 

Tuesday’s event for mayoral candidate Emanuel Pleitez was hardly the glamorous spectacle that would be expected from a person running for the top position in the nation’s second largest city. 

But being unconventional is a theme of Pleitez’s campaign. 

The 6-foot-3-inch former tech executive is attempting to distinguish himself from his competitors by presenting himself as an outsider and community activist rather than a seasoned politician.

A former Villaraigosa aide, Pleitez has never held elected office. His campaign budget lacks the full war chests of his opponents and the high profile sponsors backing them. Few give the 30-year-old much – if any – chance of making it into the mayoral run-off. 

But E.P., as he is known to his wife and campaign staff, says his unlikely bid for mayor is an effort to bring attention to issues like failing education programs and high unemployment rates in struggling communities such as South L.A., Boyle Heights and Pico-Union/Westlake, areas he says are often overlooked in citywide elections.

On this rainy day in the neighborhood of Florence, Pleitez stopped talking, grabbed a folding chair and sat down, beckoning everyone to scoot closer. 

“What’s your name and what are your concerns?” he asked in Spanish to each person, some of whom were teenagers and too young to vote.

Fifteen-year-old Jennifer Solano, a freshman at Civitas Sol High School, said she wished for more youth programs at her school and more opportunities for college scholarships. Pleitez nodded his head in agreement as she spoke. 

Pleitez, who grew up in South and East L.A, describes education as a top priority. He says funding education and improving the skill sets of those living in underserved communities will lead to a more adept workforce that can support small businesses. 

But Pleitez says the next mayor’s first goal must be to fix the city’s budget crisis. He touts a seven-point plan, which calls for a $1 billion investment from private companies into the poorest areas of the city. 

“Our economy will not grow at its maximum capacity if we leave 50 percent of our community behind,” Pleitez said.

By luring private investors to pour money into low-income neighborhoods rather than depending on taxpayer dollars, Pleitez says he can bring Los Angeles back from the brink of bankruptcy. 

He points to his former jobs – a financial analyst for Goldman Sachs, a management consultant at McKinsey & Company and the chief strategy officer for Pasadena-based, social network aggregator Spokeo – as proof that he knows how to fix the city’s finances. 

“I’ve done this for a living,” Pleitez said. “I’ve advised small, medium and large companies on how to make their operations better, how to have a strategy.” 

But critics argue Pleitez’s lack of elected political experience makes him ill-equipped to be mayor.

In 2009, a 26-year-old Pleitez failed to win a congressional seat in the San Gabriel Valley with 13.4 percent of the vote, coming in behind veterans Judy Chu and Gil Cedillo. In this mayoral race, opponents Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel and Jan Perry have more than three decades of city hall experience combined.

While other candidates’ television ads have played for nearly a month, Pleitez shot his first one Thursday on a hill near his campaign office in Boyle Heights. The commercial, produced by a volunteer who offered his services through Facebook, will hit the airwaves a week before the March 5 primary. 

Pleitez is in fifth place with 6 percent of the vote, according to the latest poll from SurveyUSA. He says his campaign budget is “lean” but “effective.” 

Frontrunners Garcetti and Greuel have spent a combined $6.6 million on their campaigns so far, each spending nearly ten times more than Pleitez has, according to the most recent figures from the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission. But the two candidates each have the support of only four times the number of voters as Pleitez.

Pleitez doesn’t look at his lack of experience, small budget and grassroots operations as obstacles to the top dog spot. He says his ground campaign canvassing struggling communities like South L.A. will pay off by putting him in the minds of undecided voters and inspiring new ones to show up at the ballot box. 

“If we do it right, we win,” Pleitez said.

Reach Melissah here. Follow her on Twitter.



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