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ELECTION 2002

A Changed Pringle Jibes With Anaheim

November 07, 2002|Kimi Yoshino and Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writers

The Anaheim mayoral election was still months away, but Curt Pringle made the critical move of his campaign in August.

The Republican, who 14 years ago was dogged by controversy when the local GOP stationed guards at polling places in Latino neighborhoods to block suspected illegal immigrants from voting, stood shoulder to shoulder with Latino activists who once scorned him. Together, they advocated on behalf of Mexico-based Gigante, a supermarket trying to open in Anaheim amid resistance from city planners.

On Tuesday, it paid off. Residents elected Pringle as their mayor -- along with two Latino council members -- ushering in what many say is a new beginning for a city that is now nearly 50% Latino.

Though Latinos did not turn out in droves to support Pringle, neither did they rally against him. An analysis of turnout in precincts dominated by Latino voters showed that no mayoral candidate emerged as the top choice.

"We have a renaissance here," said Amin David, president of Los Amigos of Orange County, a Latino-rights group. "Curt Pringle did a masterful thing in the Gigante situation. It brought us into an arena that we never thought we'd be in together."

Activist Nativo Lopez agreed: "Curt Pringle of 2002 is not the Curt Pringle of 1988. I don't think he's the same person ideologically." Those familiar with the Gigante controversy -- the focus of national media attention when the city redevelopment director called the store too Hispanic -- use such words as "pragmatic" and "clever" to describe Pringle's alliance with Latinos.

The politician rode the wave of Republican success all the way to Assembly speaker during the 1990s, only to lose his electoral luster in a disastrous run for state treasurer four years ago. In that race, Latinos reminded voters of Pringle's poll-guard past.

This year, there was no such effort. "We didn't take him on," said Latino activist Art Montez, who also sits on an Anaheim school board. "Pringle's young enough, and he saw what happened with the poll guards. He knew not to take the HMS Republican back into those stormy waters again. He's young enough to repair his career."

Pringle, 43, said he hopes Anaheim residents will focus on his ability to build consensus rather than on controversial actions from his past.

"The way you get things done in any diverse community is to figure out who you want to build bridges to, and then build them," Pringle said.

"I'm a Republican, yet maybe this is a way for people to see who I am in Orange County. In Anaheim, I would much rather get things done than be defined as a Republican mayor."

Pringle said he has moved beyond the poll guard controversy. Latino leaders are also ready to move forward.

"This where the word 'tolerance' takes effect," Montez said. "Everyone is forgiven for their sins, given their abilities and actions and what they do to show remorse. Gigante was a big one."

But his stand on Gigante is not enough to convince his mayoral opponent, Lucille Kring, or outgoing Mayor Tom Daly that Pringle is a changed person.

"I think it's too soon to say," Daly said.

Whether Pringle continues building coalitions with Latinos, Daly said it is clear they are a larger political presence in Anaheim than ever.

Newcomer Richard Chavez upset former Councilman Bob Zemel as the second highest vote-getter in the council race. Chavez, a city firefighter who will resign before he takes office, targeted Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. Bob Hernandez, who finished first, is a former firefighter.

"We pursued the Hispanic community, typically where nobody had ever knocked on doors," Chavez said. "I think candidates like Curt Pringle and the Republican Party have been forced to pay attention to what's going on demographically in Anaheim."

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Times staff writer Ray F. Herndon contributed to this report.

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