By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
What followed, as he and his partner went to work on the new company, were 15-hour workdays, with his credit cards maxed out and his future on the line. His friend Larry Penn remembers Unz ”working so hard on his programs for a stretch of a few months that he never left his neighborhood.“
Within a year, Unz had an acrimonious falling-out with his partner. Unz was thrown back on a total reliance upon himself. He became Wall Street Analytics, a corporation of one. All along the way, Unz flogged himself with the idea of an eventual reward -- the resources to get involved in politics. ”If somebody had told me I‘d spend the rest of my life in software, I’d have just hanged myself,“ he says. Sleepless nights and punishing days of writing code finally paid off. Sales of his software programs boomed in the late 1980s, and Unz was suddenly flush.
As money came in, Unz almost immediately began spending nearly all he had on acquiring political influence. He plunked $50,000 down on the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank in New York, and Linda Chavez‘s offshoot, the Center for Equal Opportunity. During this formative stage of Unz’s political involvement, immigration was the primary issue that animated him. Living in Jackson Heights, he was surrounded by neighbors from Central America, Puerto Rico and Mexico. In his neighborhood, Unz remembers, elderly people thought nothing of leaving their windows open in the summertime; it was a safe and clean place where people worked hard. But in Manhattan, crime soared and the fabric of the city frayed. ”Just reading about it, all those killings!“ he says. ”One day there were 20 people killed.“ Living in New York ”made me more conservative, no question,“ Unz recalls. ”New York City under David Dinkins was such a disaster!“
This dual vision -- of an ideology that merged pro-immigrant sentiment with entrepreneurial anti-welfare conservatism -- was reinforced by the intense independent study in contemporary politics he assigned himself. One day Unz stumbled across Commentary, the neoconservative journal, and he promptly bought a complete set of 15 years of issues to educate himself, he says, about how the country had veered into such terrible trouble. When he finished reading, Unz began hectoring his friends with dire predictions that a nativist backlash was brewing. With frustration rising over crime, welfare and economic stagnation, he felt that immigrants would become primary targets of turbulent times. ”I wanted to set things in motion,“ Unz remembers, ”to counter that before it happened.“
Shortly after Unz moved Wall Street Analytics Inc. back to California in 1992, settling in Palo Alto, his worst fears played out. The state was in a deep recession, and Republican Governor Pete Wilson, along with a host of Democratic Party leaders, including Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, began to talk tough about the costs of new immigrants. When no other candidate stepped forward, Unz took a leave from his business and placed $2 million a of his own money into a kamikaze candidacy against the incumbent governor.
Unz ran in opposition to Proposition 187, the Wilson-supported initiative to deny medical care and education to the children of illegal immigrants. But he ran to Wilson‘s right on the environment, taxes, crime and other issues, winning the support of the right-wing California Republican Assembly. ”What I was really doing was highlighting the internal contradiction -- in classic Marxian sense -- between the extensive social-welfare state and an openness to immigration,“ Unz says now. ”If people think illegal immigrants are coming here because they need work and they’ll go home again, that‘s one thing. But if they feel they are coming here and getting all these government goodies paid for by your tax dollars, that makes them very upset.“
At the end of a short primary challenge, Unz got 34 percent of the vote, a credible showing. But he left a raft of disappointed allies in the campaign’s wake. His campaign strategist, Arnold Steinberg, acknowledges that the campaign ”collapsed after about three weeks,“ largely because there was no money to keep television advertisements on the air. According to others active in the campaign, few if any of the staff members who worked on that first campaign still support Unz, because he didn‘t know how to build good working relationships.
In any case, the post-election situation in 1994 was deeply depressing for Unz. ”Proposition 187 won in a landslide and Pete Wilson won in a landslide, and immigration became the really hot-button national issue,“ Unz recalls. ”That was the primary reason I’d run against Wilson, and for all my effort -- or perhaps because of my effort -- suddenly immigration seemed to be moving in the opposite direction.“ Depleted both psychologically and financially, Unz went back to work in his business, writing new software code, and he stayed involved only tangentially in politics by cooperating with a network of pro-immigrant activists to oppose new restrictions proposed on immigration by the Clinton administration and the Republican-controlled Congress.
Unz‘s re-entry into politics came a year and a half later, in 1996, when he seized on the highly publicized boycott by parents of students at Ninth Street Elementary School over bilingual programs in the school. He proceeded to draft and campaign for a ban on traditional bilingual programs in California schools. To mount the campaign, Unz executed another one of his ”diagonals.“ He allied himself not with the already existing anti-immigrant English advocates, but with a left-wing Episcopal priest, Alice Callaghan, who runs social-services programs for garment workers and their children in Los Angeles.