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Santa Ana's Mayor-Elect Keeps Juggling : Politics: Miguel A. Pulido Jr. is both admired and criticized for wooing a wide spectrum of voters.

November 19, 1994|LEE ROMNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Miguel A. Pulido Jr. starts this day in the well-worn offices of his family's muffler shop, slipping easily from English to Spanish to French as he studies the absentee vote count, ducks under a car to diagnose a faulty converter and takes a call from a Vietnamese supporter.

The councilman and mayor-elect then dashes to City Hall for a briefing on pending projects, pays his respects at a viewing for deceased Latino community attorney Wallace Davis, and rushes to Costa Mesa's swank Center Club for a gathering of the newly formed Latin American Voters Assn.

By the time he takes his seat on the council dais for an evening forum on community policing on this recent day, he is 30 minutes late.

Pulido, 38, has earned both respect and criticism for his ambitious effort to juggle engagements and his diplomatic knack for wooing a wide range of voters.

When he is sworn in later this month as Santa Ana's first Latino mayor, the Mexican-born Pulido may face the greatest challenge of all--finding a way to unite and satisfy a city of extremes that includes the conservative Anglo residents who have long held considerable voting clout and the vocal Latino community activists who have eyed his politicking with growing adisdain.

"There are those who criticize him for not being a single-issue elected official," said outgoing Mayor Daniel H. Young. "The fact of the matter is he's the mayor. . . . Let me tell you from a guy who has eight years on the beat, Santa Ana is one of the toughest cities to represent.

"You have every nationality, every income group, every political persuasion, all of whom are struggling to get to the forefront. You have to be a supremely talented listener. You have to be someone who has a genuine interest in all points of view, or you just flat won't succeed. That's where I think Miguel has the right talents."

Pulido, a handsome yet shy former engineer and tennis player, was elected to the City Council in 1986 after his family successfully fought the city's attempts to raze their business, the Ace Muffler shop on 1st Street.

Back then, he was a little-known activist who tenaciously battled Santa Ana's powers-that-be. Since then, he has emerged as an accomplished politician, adept at working state and federal government officials to pull in millions of dollars in grants for the city.

But Pulido's agility in sporting different hats when addressing different audiences has alienated him from some Latino community leaders, who say he shapes his opinions to what constituents want to hear, often shows up late or not at all to community events, and hasn't shown enough sensitivity to the city's low-income immigrants.

"If you say you're going to be there, you have to follow through," said Rueben Martinez, a downtown barber and bookseller who supported Pulido strongly in his early years but has become disenchanted with the mayor-elect. "That's where you get your credibility and integrity built. Through the years, he's gained some and he's lost some. He's always sitting on the fence."

On the eve of the recent election, Pulido came under fire from some Latino community activists for sending out a final-hour mailer to Anglo voters that stated he opposed Proposition 187 because it "does not go far enough" in cracking down on illegal immigration.

Just a week earlier, he had publicly stated that he was opposed to the measure, but cited different reasons, namely that Prop. 187 would deny children access to education and health care. Those sentiments were absent from the mailer, which instead focused on the threats that some "illegal aliens" pose to public safety and on Pulido's efforts to clear the city of the homeless and limit the number of people who can live in a residence--key concerns to many Santa Ana voters.

"It was an awful piece. Of course it hurt him," Martinez said. "It did not show any passion, and no sensitivity."

The mayor-elect, however, said his position on the controversial initiative remained consistent, and that he sent out the mailer to stress his opposition to illegal immigration.

Pulido points out that his own family immigrated legally from Mexico. He says he is proud of his cultural heritage and fluency in three languages, and he enjoys strumming his guitar as his father sings traditional Mexican ballads that his grandfather wrote and passed down.

The Latino community, he says, is as diverse as the Anglo community.

"I don't feel the connection some people assume I feel. I don't think any one voice can speak on behalf of all Hispanics," Pulido said.

Pulido was born in Mexico City to Miguel Armando Pulido, an engineer, and Maria Soledad Pulido, whose French ancestry piqued the younger Miguel's interest in the language before she died when he was 19.

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