The longtime City Hall worker stood in Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle's office, soaking in her surroundings.
"I've never seen the mayor's office before," said the secretary, who works just a few floors down, in the city attorney's office. "How nice. In small towns, a long time ago, they did things like this."
But here in Anaheim, the German colony that grew into the state's 10th-biggest city, nobody could recall a mayor's reception for employees. He popped for cookies and coffee and invited every city employee to his top-floor digs so they could get to know him. And they came: department heads, firefighters, even the guy from the mailroom.
They chatted with one of the state's savviest politicians, a former Assembly speaker and controversial conservative Republican who has made Anaheim his new political stage.
The open house was signature Pringle, taken straight from his Sacramento playbook when he used to host bimonthly pasta dinners for both Republican and Democratic lawmakers. It's the kind of schmoozing that he employed during his four terms in Sacramento and that he is using to brand the first year of his term as mayor of Anaheim.
As he prepares to deliver his State of the City address today, Pringle, 44, finds himself in an arena more parochial than his old Sacramento haunts.
Already he has several successes -- soothing relations with a neighboring city, laying groundwork for a possible professional basketball team, and adopting a number of business-friendly ordinances.
Access to Lawmakers
"I'm not surprised to see him do better at the local level than some would expect," said Barbara Stone, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State Fullerton and a Republican Party activist. "He is pretty ideologically conservative but it doesn't get in his way of dealing with people in the issues at hand."
Anaheim Mayor Pro Tem Richard Chavez, a Democratic labor activist who has befriended Pringle, agreed. "What he's done is build a relationship [with me] -- and that's what he's done with other people. He builds a relationship, finds that mutual ground and uses that common ground to resolve problems."
And few mayors in California can boast his kind of access to critical lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, thanks to his connections with several key members of the governor's staff. At one point mentioned as a possible chief of staff for Schwarzenegger, Pringle has lobbied the governor to protect cities' allocation of vehicle license fees.
"There's not a big-city mayor out there who can rival Curt Pringle in terms of getting things done in the state," said lobbyist Darius Anderson, chief fundraiser for then-Gov. Gray Davis.
"He knows the process, he knows the players, and he is respected. You talk to some of the most prominent Democrats and they will tell you that Pringle is that kind of person.... He's a Democrat's dream to work with."
After leaving the Assembly in 1998 because of term limits, Pringle ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer and kept a foot in Sacramento by launching his lobbying business there. Saying he missed public service -- and dismissing suggestions that he was positioning himself for a return to state politics -- Pringle used his name recognition and campaign war chest to be handily elected mayor in 2002, replacing Tom Daly.
The man who helped shape the state budget and who presided over the Assembly now heads a five-member City Council debating soccer fields and planning commission term limits.
Both locally and in Sacramento, Pringle is respected for his intelligence and his ability to strike political compromises that have helped him forge unlikely partnerships.
State Sen. Chuck Poochigian (R-Fresno) said Pringle has worked to overcome a long-held reputation for being an unbending conservative.
"I don't know of anyone that I've worked with who has as much stature in the Legislature and worked so effectively and pragmatically," Poochigian said.
Los Angeles City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, a former Democratic assemblyman who was also speaker, said he met Pringle in 1994, a time in Sacramento of intense acrimony and "a lot of negative feelings."
"Not at first, but over time, I think he mellowed," Villaraigosa said. "I think he tried to be more bipartisan."
The two ironed out their differences so much that when Villaraigosa ran for Los Angeles mayor in 2001, Pringle hosted a fundraiser for him.
On a recent trip to Sacramento, Pringle met with Schwarzenegger's deputy chief of staff, hosted a get-together with top Republican leaders at his fashionable, new downtown loft office, and popped into Democratic Assembly speaker Herb Wesson's office for a quick hello.
"Curt's not a bad fella," Wesson offered afterward. "He's just got the wrong [political party] initial after his name."
It's a long way from his Garden Grove roots where he worked at his parents' drapery shop and, in his 20s, ran unsuccessfully three times for City Council.
A Lucky Political Break