Santa Ana Councilman Roman Reyna, looking to unseat ten-term Mayor Miguel Pulido in the November election, will kick off his mayoral campaign Saturday pledging to stamp out “backroom deals” and increase City Hall transparency.
“I think our city is at a cross roads,” Reyna said. “The question is… does the city want to stay and maintain leadership that is the typical old way, and the political games, or are they looking for a brighter future?”
Reyna, who will open his campaign at the downtown restaurant Original Mike’s, said in a Voice of OC interview that Pulido’s twenty-year tenure has made the mayor complacent and that the old political culture at City Hall – “backroom deals” and an overall lack of transparency – has to go.
Reyna is a member of the “Santa Ana Spring,” the City Council majority that has in recent years challenged Pulido’s entrenched power over the city bureaucracy. The bloc has ousted former City Manager Paul Walters, who was seen as close to the mayor, and implemented a government sunshine ordinance that requires greater community outreach and increased transparency.
But while the incumbent mayor is isolated on the council, he remains a formidable election opponent. Two other members of the council majority, Michele Martinez and David Benavides, ran against Pulido in the 2008 and 2012 elections but failed to unseat him.
Pulido can also boast high-level political connections, like Gov. Jerry Brown and wealthy businessman Henry Samueli, owner of the Anaheim Ducks hockey team. Other associates helped the city secure major projects, like the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse and the Discovery Science Center.
Yet there have been signs that Pulido’s era is waning. His share of the vote has been steadily declining, and he received less than 50 percent of the total votes for mayor in the last two election cycles.
Reyna, an outreach specialist for the Orange-based mental health services organization The Wellness Center, says he will succeed because he has decades of history in the city, having grown up and worked there, and the grassroots support that comes with it. He notes that he only spent $18,000 in the 2012 election cycle and managed to win a council seat.
He also points out that Pulido has been hit with news of a questionable business deal and law enforcement investigations “that are not positive for him, or the community.”
Reyna was referring to a property swap between Pulido and a city contractor in which the mayor and his family received a house for less than half fair market value, according to public records. Pulido later sold the house at a nearly $200,000 profit, and the vendor received a $1.35 million no-bid contract with the city.
Good government experts have questioned whether the series of deals amount to a bribery scheme. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office and Fair Political Practices Commission are investigating.
“I think it could be very challenging for him,” Reyna said. “I don’t think it’s healthy for our leadership to be playing in the grey on a regular basis. I think that’s typical politics. Same old politics.”
Reyna also asserts that he is more in touch with the city’s working-class Latino community and its challenges. As a teenager, a bullet struck his leg in a drive-by-shooting, leaving a thick scar.
“Back in the 80s, drive bys were unfortunately very, very common. They happened maybe four times a week,” Reyna said. “The fact that I’m entrenched in the community… I think that does help me to relate to the community and its challenges because we speak on a regular basis.”
Reyna said he wants to bring the city “ahead of the curve” by implementing free city WiFi and an online system for issuing business permits that would relieve companies from having to make several trips to City Hall.
And as a youth mentor, Reyna said he wants to beef up services for kids.
“The fact that we’re investing more in after school programs is a great start, but we need to do more of it,” Reyna said. “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”
The campaign kickoff event begins at 11 a.m.