Reporting from Costa Mesa — When taco trucks with loudspeakers first rolled down his street, Allan Mansoor said, the last thing he thought about was lunch. The so-called roach coaches were proliferating, he lamented, and changing the character of his once-peaceful neighborhood.
That was almost eight years ago, when Mansoor's quest for peace and quiet first led him to City Hall and sparked a growing involvement in government.
Today, the 46-year-old is speaking out against a lot more than neighborhood nuisances as he campaigns for a seat in the California Assembly. As mayor of Costa Mesa, the former Orange County sheriff's deputy is best known for taking vocal positions on illegal immigration and employee pension reform.
Long before Arizona passed SB 1070, Mansoor introduced his own measure in 2005 to have city police officers check the immigration status of crime suspects.
In April, Mansoor announced that Costa Mesa would be a "rule of law" city that does not tolerate illegal immigrants.
The rule of law proposal, which the council passed, won Mansoor national attention. Critics, however, denounced him for grandstanding and complained that the measure had no enforceable provisions.
Still, the prospect of having Mansoor serve in the Legislature has excited some Republicans. "He could take a lead role in advocating and trying to push for immigration reform," said Republican Sen. Tom Harman, who represents Costa Mesa.
But some believe that Mansoor's hard stance on illegal immigration has already hurt the city and would isolate him in Sacramento.
"There are some Democratic legislators that are looking to punish Costa Mesa for taking those anti-immigrant and anti-Latino positions," said Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D- Santa Ana), a member of the Latino Caucus.
Some lawmakers, Solorio said, threatened to derail the city's pending purchase of the Orange County Fairgrounds from the state, citing Mansoor and his immigration policies. Solorio failed to introduce a bill last week that would have allowed the $96-million sale to the city.
The 68th Assembly District is reliably Republican — in the 2008 general election, 42% of registered voters were Republican and 33% were Democratic. But in this race, ethnicity may undermine party affiliation.
Mansoor's Democratic opponent, Phu Nguyen, is the vice president of a remittance company for Vietnamese Americans and has strong ties to local groups in Little Saigon. Orange County Vietnamese immigrants have traditionally voted Republican, but some experts believe they may shift to support Nguyen.
"Vietnamese are clearly sensitive to being immigrants here because many of them are such recent arrivals," said Tony Quinn, a Sacramento political analyst. "That is dangerous ground for Mansoor."
Adding to the campaign's immigrant theme is the fact that Mansoor himself is the child of immigrants. His mother is from the Aland Islands, a region of Finland, and his father is from Egypt.
Edgard Mansoor, his father, was the son of a prominent Egyptian antiquities dealer, and his ancestors were in the Coptic Orthodox Church. Copts are the largest religious minority in Egypt.
When discussing his parents' background, Mansoor emphasizes their assimilation. His mother cooked both Swedish and Middle Eastern food, he says, but English was always spoken at home.
"When my mom came here," Mansoor recounted, "my grandmother said to her, 'You're not in Sweden anymore, you have to learn English.' And my mom learned it, within a few months."
Recently, the editor of an Arab American newspaper in Anaheim charged that Mansoor was afraid to embrace his father's Egyptian roots. "As we say in Arabic, he who forgets his origin has no origin," wrote Sami Bishara Mashney, editor of the Independent Monitor.
Before entering law enforcement, Mansoor worked in plumbing and construction. In 1998 he earned an associate's degree from Coastline Community College.
He worked at Men's Central Jail in Santa Ana for the majority of his 15 years in the Orange County Sheriff's Department. But the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs is unlikely to support Mansoor, according to Wayne Quint Jr., the union's president.
Public employee unions fought Mansoor when he signed the ballot argument for Proposition 75, the 2005 California measure that made it harder for unions to raise political funds. At the same time, he earned respect from conservatives who have long battled against generous pensions for public employees.
"Here's a guy who's reaping the benefits of a politically active association," Quint said, "and yet he's out there criticizing it at the same time."
Later, Mansoor withdrew his membership from the union because "I wasn't supportive of the things my union dues went to."
That was last September, a few months before he resigned from the department because of time constraints during the campaign, he said.
Beyond his anti-illegal immigration and pension reform postures, Mansoor says his agenda is one of fewer regulations and lower taxes. A picture of President Reagan is prominently displayed in his office.
"I got into politics by accident," Mansoor said, "and just started speaking up on the issues."