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A Different Pringle? Maybe

November 17, 2002

Orange County's Latino activists show cautious willingness to give Curt Pringle a second chance after his past transgressions. The newly elected mayor of Anaheim should remember, though, that he has a long way to go in showing that he deserves their trust.

The ugly event occurred in 1988, but it's hard to forget the time Pringle's campaign stationed uniformed, private guards at polling places in Santa Ana, where some of them challenged Latino voters and demanded identification. The GOP and Pringle, then a Republican assemblyman, eventually paid a $400,000 settlement.

The Latino community got revenge 10 years later with a campaign reminding voters of the shameful episode -- helping bring about Pringle's stinging defeat for state treasurer.

The two sides were on more amicable terms during Pringle's successful run for mayor. That's because he took the unexpected step of siding with a Mexican supermarket chain in its bid to open an Anaheim store.

City officials had expressed concern that the store was too Latino in theme for the regional shopping center in question. But the City Council ultimately approved the liquor license that the Gigante store needed in order to open.

By joining a pro-Gigante rally, Pringle at minimum showed himself a practical politician who recognizes the county's rapidly changing demographics. Anaheim's population is almost half Latino, and though Latinos now make up only a fifth of its voters, that too will change in coming years.

Such high-profile activists as Nativo Lopez now say such things as "Curt Pringle of 2002 is not the Curt Pringle of 1988. I don't think he's the same person ideologically."

Perhaps. So far, all that Pringle has shown is that he's not the same person pragmatically. The Gigante controversy was a no-brainer, at least for almost everyone but the city's misguided redevelopment director, who expressed dismay that the market's signs were in Spanish as well as English. The chain's U.S. stores are clean, successful, popular additions to the ethnic-foods sector, as the Anaheim store is certain to be. The rally came at a good time for a political appearance: in August, close enough to the elections to make an impact. It also fit neatly into the Republican's ideological support for business in the face of government regulation.

Still unknown is how Pringle will react when it comes to providing city services that affect Latinos, or dealing with the Latino community's ongoing discomfort with the Police Department.

Pringle offers equivocal explanations about the poll guards. He didn't know about the uniforms, he says, or that his campaign paid for the signs saying that illegal immigrants cannot vote. Better would be an acknowledgment of his responsibility for his own campaign, along with an apology.

But the Latino community appears willing to forgo all that. It rightly would prefer to build a strong relationship with its new mayor. Pringle has laid some good groundwork; now the real work begins.

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