In his State of the City address Wednesday, Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido spoke passionately about the city's efforts to reduce crime, improve neighborhoods and create better educational opportunities for its children.
But a day later, it wasn't the speech that many who attended the event were talking about. It was the visual of Pulido and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas -- who is leading a criminal investigation into a property swap between the mayor and a city contractor -- sitting together at the head table.
Santa Ana Councilman David Benavides, who ran against Pulido for mayor in 2012, openly questioned the seating arrangement, saying it creates the impression that the DA might go soft on the mayor.
“Seeing Miguel with Tony, it does give one question or concern, if the DA is investigating somebody, that there would be this closeness or chumminess,” Benavides said. “One wonders whether there is an impartial investigation.”
Others, who either attended the event, or saw a photo published in Voice of OC afterward, privately echoed Benavides' sentiments.
“Someone in that capacity [Rackauckas] needs to be beyond reproach. You can’t even give the appearance of impropriety,” said an insider who attended the event and didn’t want to be named. “And he should know that beyond all people because he’s a former judge.”
The DA’s office meanwhile has downplayed Rackauckas’ appearance at the event.
“The district attorney was invited to attend the state of the city in his role as the district attorney. When he arrived, he was assigned to Mr. Pulido’s table, along with other dignitaries,” said District Attorney Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder. “As to any inquiries that maybe conducted by the professional law enforcement officers and prosecutors of this office, if they find any law violation, we will handle that case accordingly.”
The DA's office is investigating a property swap between a city contractor and Pulido that ethics experts said could be a $200,000 bribe.
The mayor and his family received a house at less than half fair market value, according to public records. Then later, the vendor was awarded a $1.35 million, no-bid contract to supply auto parts to the city.
Adding to the mystery over Pulido’s fate is the fact that he has refused to answer questions from reporters regarding his re-election plans.
This is a departure from the 2012 election cycle, when Pulido had confirmed that he was running for a tenth term around the same time as his State of the City address.
And he has remained mum on the subject despite Councilman Roman Reyna's announcement last weekend that he is running for the city's highest elected office.
Confidants of Pulido reached Thursday also couldn’t definitively answer the question.
George Urch, Pulido’s political consultant, said he hadn’t been able to reach Pulido with the question, but said he assumed the mayor would be running for re-election.
“He hasn’t told me isn’t running,” Urch said. “And I fully expect him to run.”
Meanwhile, Art Pedroza, one of Pulido’s former campaign consultants, reported on his blog that the 20-year mayor might retire this year.
“I am hearing from several sources that Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido is quite serious about defending himself as he is investigated for various issues stemming from campaign finances and real estate shenanigans,” Pedroza wrote. “He is telling friends that his priority is his legal defense.”