Friends and relatives worried that Dean L. Maulhardt, a soft-spoken businessman and descendant of two prominent farming families, was making an embarrassing mistake earlier this year when he decided to run for the Oxnard City Council.
The shy Maulhardt, who had worked on the family farm for 20 years growing lemons, strawberries and avocados, was simply not political timber, they said.
"Their animosity came across like 'Dean, what are you getting yourself into?' " said Michael Clarke, a longtime friend. "The Maulhardt family has always been involved in politics, but kind of behind the scenes. This was a big jump into the limelight."
Yet Maulhardt, also known by family members and business associates for his steadfastness, went forward with his plan to bring a member of Oxnard's founding families back to power, prodded by another friend, outgoing Councilman Michael A. Plisky.
His announcement was quickly followed by strong support from his well-connected relatives, other local farmers such as the McGrath family and, in turn, the city's business establishment.
Maulhardt emerged second in a field of 11 candidates seeking two council seats, beating out John C. Zaragoza, who was widely favored to win along with incumbent Tom Holden, who was the top vote-getter.
Now that the election euphoria has passed, however, the conservative Maulhardt is sobering up to the realities of public office.
His opinions on touchy issues such as city-subsidized housing and redevelopment are being closely scrutinized.
And his once-private finances--such as the $176,000 he owes in back taxes and assessment payments as a partner in a botched land deal--are now part of Oxnard's public discourse.
"I'll admit I'm naive when it comes to politics, but I see that as a plus," Maulhardt said. "Working with city managers and city leaders is a business relationship. That probably is a naive statement, but I plan to approach government like a business and get acquainted with politics as I go along."
A fourth-generation Oxnard farmer, the 44-year-old Maulhardt is a descendant of the pioneering Borchard and Maulhardt families, which settled in the Oxnard Plain about 140 years ago. He is also related to the Friedrichs, another early farming family.
One of five children, Maulhardt grew up in the wholesome environment of his father's ranch in an era when Oxnard still felt like a small town and the Maulhardts were well known to the city's residents, he said.
Maulhardt attended what is now Loyola Marymount University to study business and prepare for a career in law. But he missed the farm, and he drove home from college almost every week to help his father tend to the difficult strawberry crops.
"When I graduated from college, I was kind of tired," Maulhardt said. "I said I was going to go to law school, but I wanted to farm one year to rest. I never went back."
Maulhardt and his four brothers and sisters formed a partnership and bought out their father's operation shortly afterward, with Maulhardt farming his father's land along with some rented acreage. He farmed for about 20 years, including his college days.
Maulhardt met his wife, Toni, while in college in 1970, and they married two years later. They have two daughters, Stacy, 20, and Jaime, 18.
With his sister, Donna, and her husband, Gary Stiles, Maulhardt bought the family farming operation in the early 1980s and formed the Maulhardt Stiles Co., which grew, packed and shipped produce. Maulhardt bought out Stiles a few years later, but eventually disbanded the company.
He was tired of struggling as a small farmer and was seeking a new career, he said.
After working several years as a computer consultant, last year Maulhardt and two partners started an agricultural packaging business, Quality Packaging & Supplies Inc., which he now manages.
During his career as a rancher, Maulhardt considered becoming an Oxnard councilman, a position held by his cousin, Edwin Carty, in the 1950s. But he decided that he did not have the time.
It was not until Plisky and Maulhardt's cousin, developer Stephen Maulhardt, urged him to run for the council this year that he seriously considered public office. Maulhardt's relatives, friends and business partners--even his wife--were all stunned when he decided to run.
"Dean's just not a very outgoing person," Toni Maulhardt said. "I didn't feel he would be comfortable speaking in public."
Maulhardt's pro-business platform was similar to Holden's successful formula, emphasizing the need for more police officers and Neighborhood Watch programs, and pledging to cut Oxnard's government and run the city like a business.
Although he lacked the speaking skills of some other candidates, Maulhardt had one advantage over them all--name recognition, which he admits probably helped his cause.
Now that he is Oxnard's newly elected councilman, Maulhardt has received advice from Plisky on sticking to his guns, refusing to sell his ideas short and avoiding the pitfalls of elected office.