Each week for 27 years, members of Los Amigos of Orange County have met to share stories, collect money for those in need and dabble in local politics. It's a loose-knit kaffeeklatsch led by the 74-year-old owner of two plumbing and building materials companies who ends each meeting in a prayer circle.
This summer, Los Amigos and Amin David, the only leader it has had, embarked on their highest-profile mission, one that has brought together an unlikely coalition of conservatives, liberals and many in between in a bid to remove Anaheim Union High School District trustee Harald Martin from office.
Martin's opponents Monday submitted petitions containing nearly 5,000 signatures to the Orange County Department of Education.
"We the people are saying no to this appointment," David said after turning in the signatures. "His background certainly gave us conclusive evidence he is not fit to serve as trustee."
If the county receives 2,300 signatures from registered voters who live in the district, Martin's appointment would be rescinded and a special election would be called within four months.
Martin, 52, served eight years on the school board before losing a reelection contest in 2004, when he came in seventh of eight candidates.
He had raised the ire of many by proposing to bill Mexico for schooling illegal immigrants and suggesting that a teenage girl whom a teacher molested was partly to blame because she kept it secret.
Martin, who immigrated to the U.S. from Austria as a toddler, was appointed to his position last month by a 3-1 vote to replace a trustee who died.
Martin did not return calls seeking comment.
Trustee Katherine Smith, who voted to appoint the retired Anaheim police officer to the board, said Los Amigos had taken up against Martin because its leader had a vendetta against him.
David "absolutely hates Harald, and one of the sad things about Mr. David is that we have a 1st Amendment in this country and anyone has the right, within certain reason, to express their opinions," she said.
David says the problem is that Martin "is really seeking to do harm to all Latinos, which includes the undocumented people here. His presence on a decision-making body will not ensure fairness and the betterment of all the students."
David came to the U.S. as a child from Chihuahua, Mexico. His father had immigrated to Mexico from Lebanon. David, the father of four and grandfather of seven, prefers that the spotlight shine on Los Amigos or its issues, not on him.
Los Amigos has worked on issues related to the treatment of immigrants by local police and sparred with Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona over his plan to train deputies in immigration enforcement.
Two nonprofit organizations started as Los Amigos projects: Kinder Caminata, which takes area kindergartners on college tours, and the Consortium of Physicians From Latin America, dedicated to helping Latin American professionals get state licenses.
The group has steered away from controversy, cautiously approaching public officials about problems affecting Latinos.
Art Pedroza, a prominent Latino Republican who runs a political blog, said Los Amigos' effort to oust Martin is "outside the scope of the normal activities for the group. . . . Now the question is: Will this campaign be an opening salvo for this organization to become even more politically active?"
Alexandria Coronado is a conservative member of the county Board of Education who hasn't always seen eye to eye with the group, but she joined forces with Los Amigos in the anti-Martin campaign.
She said it was in keeping with the group's mission of aiding Latinos.
"They're doing what's best for the community," said Coronado, who served with Martin on the Anaheim board for four years.
The slogan of the group, which attracts 20 to 50 people each week including many non-Latinos, is "Nos gusta ayudar," translating to "We like to help."
Besides taking positions on local issues, people bring to the group problems to solve, such as an illegal immigrant who couldn't get financial aid for college and a woman who complained that her husband was beating her.
At Los Amigos meetings, the rule is "If you plead it, you lead it." That means that those who make suggestions must take the lead role in finding the solution.
When Cindy Salazar, 15, approached Los Amigos for help last week because she thought she was wrongfully expelled from a Santa Ana high school, Los Amigos regular Zeke Hernandez suggested ways she could fight the discipline and then accompanied the girl to a meeting with district officials.
Orange County public agencies often turn to the group for support and help reaching Latinos.
The Anti-Defamation League and the Orange County Community Housing Corp. are honoring David this fall.
In the last month, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana), Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana) and state Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) have attended meetings.
"Los Amigos gets involved in a lot of issues, but this one resonated across the political spectrum across Anaheim and across Orange County," Correa said.
Carol Reinbolt, a teacher in the district for 18 years, said she decided to attend a recent meeting even though she thought Los Amigos "was a radical group. I was given the impression it was militant. It's not at all.
"How could it be? We prayed for the lost miners in Utah last week."
Times staff writer Seema Mehta contributed to this story.