Sprinting from porch to porch in working-class neighborhoods has become routine for Los Angeles mayoral candidate Emanuel Pleitez, although gangbangers and young Latino mothers may be wondering what the hell is going on. In hardscrabble South Central, you don't see many 6-foot-3, 220-pound Latino men in office attire running along the block, knocking at doors and asking people for a moment to chat. Something very peculiar is happening.
"I wish I could go out more often," says Pleitez, 30. "This is the most fun part — talking with the voters."
An unlikely product of L.A.'s barrios and woeful LAUSD schools, born to an illegal immigrant who crossed the border five months before he was born, Pleitez is also a Stanford grad tapped at 26 to work for Paul Volcker, chairman of the federal Economic Recovery Advisory Board* — and, until he quit to run for mayor, Pleitez was the high-flying chief strategy officer for leading people–search engine and social network–aggregator Spokeo.com.
Pleitez (pronounced "play-tez") greets curious residents in English or fluent Spanish — "Buenos tardes, me llamo Emanuel Pleitez y me estoy postulando para servirle como su siguiente alcalde de Los Angeles" — as he briskly walks up Trinity Street near East Adams Boulevard, where a nearby whorehouse has mothers up in arms, the park is in disarray, and many streets are controlled by the Ghetto Boys, Street Saints or Primera Flats gangs.
Having visited 40,000 voters and made 200,000 phone calls by mid-February, Pleitez is by far the youngest serious candidate for L.A. mayor in memory (Robert Yeakel, 38, came in second in 1957). His brainy, idealistic Teach for America–esque campaign workers are even younger — in fact, two top Pleitez staffers, John Hill and Michael Serna, deferred their Teach for America jobs to campaign for him. As they swarm Trinity Street to knock on doors, Pleitez zeroes in on a skinny 18-year-old with black, spiky hair sitting on a stoop with friends at Walker Temple AME Church. He's probably not a gangbanger, Pleitez thinks, but could easily fall that way.
"How are you doing, brother?" Pleitez asks. The kid, in a football jersey with short sleeves rolled up, doesn't even peer up at Pleitez, who looks for all the world like a geeky, bespectacled white guy — not a street-savvy Latino who knows the Eastside better than the cops.
Pleitez says he's running for mayor and asks the kid if he wants to vote. The kid, shaking his head, just wants the big man out of his face. "Why not?" Pleitez asks.
"It's all the same," the kid blurts out. "It's all the same," Pleitez repeats with a kind of heartbreak, studying the kid's eyes.
Here goes Pleitez again, trying to save the world. If his devout Catholic mother, Isabel Bravo, had been present, she probably would have crossed herself and said a quick prayer. "He doesn't stop and think about doing things — because he wants to 'intervene,' " Bravo says. Pleitez was a brawny kid who lettered in football, track, volleyball and basketball and tried to act as peacemaker between his nongangster friends and El Sereno's gun-wielding gangs. "I told him, 'Emanuel, they could come in the night and shoot at the house. Don't do that.' "
Pleitez hands the kid a campaign pamphlet. "Here's my name and phone number. Call me if you ever need something." The kid reluctantly takes it.
"He's hardened by this neighborhood," Pleitez explains later. "Someone needs to intervene in that life."
On a grander scale, that's exactly what Pleitez, a political mutt with views from socially liberal to fiscally conservative, hopes to do with Los Angeles — intervene. He likes former Mayor Richard Riordan's idea of requiring the vast roll of 45,360 city workers to take greater responsibility for their pensions, wants to find a way to shift $1 billion into economic development zones and, like Antonio Villaraigosa, would jump directly into the education wars, targeting the dropout rate.
Using data-mining and other high-tech tricks he learned at Spokeo — for $3.95 per month, it peddles the home-purchase histories, emails and family trees of millions of people — Pleitez and his team of 150 are canvassing pockets of "high-propensity" minority voters in Boyle Heights, Watts, the East Valley and other neglected areas. He believes he will win many Latinos, who could comprise 21 percent to 26 percent of the March 5 vote — the same voters sought by mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti.
If you buy into Pleitez's upbeat math, he squeaks into a May 21 runoff against mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel. Veteran politicos say that's impossible — Pleitez can't afford the media buys required to drill his unknown name into voters' minds. "He's never run for city office," says an unworried Bill Carrick, Garcetti's strategist. "He doesn't have enough money, and the other candidates got a head start."