Choice for Treasurer Was Minted in Mexico

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rosario Marin was burning up the corporate fast track, racking up promotions and eyeing an executive position in the banking industry.

Then she gave birth to her son Eric, a boy with Down's syndrome.

The struggle of coping with his disability propelled the young mother into politics, first as a child advocate, then as a two-time councilwoman in one of Los Angeles County's poorest cities.

Now, Marin is on the verge of the biggest promotion of her life.

Last month, President Bush nominated the Huntington Park councilwoman to be the next treasurer of the United States. If the Senate confirms the nomination at an upcoming hearing--and no opposition is expected--Marin will become one of the highest-ranking Latinas in the U.S. government.

A Mexico native who immigrated to this country reluctantly as a teenager, Marin would become overseer of the U.S. mint and her signature would appear on all new paper currency. Her posting also would continue an emerging tradition: She would become the fourth Latina appointed treasurer by a Republican president.

Political observers say Bush's selection of Marin makes sense. In addition to rewarding Marin for her extensive campaign work, her appointment would allow the Republican Party to combat the perception by some Latinos that the party is anti-immigrant.

"It's an ideal choice," said Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican consultant. "She's respected within the party. She's respected within the local community. And she's respected within the Latino community."

Marin's nomination has set the populace abuzz in Huntington Park, the blue-collar, heavily Latino community in the southeast county where her potential leap onto the national stage has swelled civic pride.

A recent City Council meeting featured the business-as-usual verbal jousting between Marin and a council opponent, but it ended with a round of congratulations and city officials joking about wanting Marin to autograph their dollar bills.

"You make us proud, and you make the city proud," said Councilman Ed Escareno. "Don't forget about us."

Marin, a tall, quick-witted woman, accepted the praise with modesty, saying it would be a privilege to be treasurer. And she broke into laughter when Escareno suggested bringing her supporters to Washington on a bus line popular for taking Latinos to the Mexican border.

Marin's appointment doesn't surprise observers of her political career. A longtime Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, Marin walked a fine line garnering key Democratic support without losing her Republican credentials.

Her critics say she did it by misrepresenting her true political leanings and by her savvy use of the Spanish media. Marin declined to comment for this story because nominees are strongly discouraged from talking to the media before their confirmation hearings.

But supporters say Marin's success stems from a ferocious will and devotion to family issues. A gregarious woman who speaks fluent Spanish and English, Marin moves easily through her bicultural world, whether canvassing in poor, immigrant neighborhoods or rubbing shoulders with pols.

"She's a fighter," said Mayor Richard Loya. "And that woman knows how to organize."

Son's Birth Inspires Activism

Marin grew up in Mexico City, the daughter of a factory worker who moved his family to Huntington Park. Her father worked as a janitor, and Marin attended public schools and college at night because she had to help her mother raise a younger sibling.

Marin eventually graduated with a business degree from Cal State Los Angeles and went into banking. After marrying a Nicaraguan-born immigrant, she gave birth to Eric. He would become, she told friends, the "wind beneath my wings."

She helped start a support group for Latino parents of children with Down's syndrome and became an advocate for disabled children. Eventually, she was hired by then-Gov. Pete Wilson's administration to serve in various posts in the Department of Developmental Services.

"I don't know why my son was born with Down's syndrome. I don't know why we were given the challenge," wrote Marin in a column for The Times in 1993. "But I welcome the opportunity to serve people like my son and I look forward to helping create policies and procedures that will enable them and their families to live 'ordinary' lives."

Her work on behalf of the disabled won her the prestigious Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Award, given to her at the United Nations.

In 1994, Marin turned to local politics, winning the first of two council terms. For many years she was the only Republican council member, and was an easy target for criticism while many Latinos viewed the Republican Party as anti-immigrant.

"The last thing we need in Huntington Park is a Pete Wilson Republican," read one campaign flier featuring a photograph of Marin seated next to her then-boss Gov. Wilson. "Rosario Marin doesn't deserve to represent the people of Huntington Park."

But Marin not only survived the negative campaigning, she also trounced the opposition in 1999, garnering more votes than any other candidate.

While tending to city matters, Marin also built her Republican resume--as a featured delegate at the 1996 Republican National Convention and, in last year's presidential contest, a tireless Bush campaigner.

One strong clue that Bush was taking notice of her efforts came shortly after the election when Marin was seated immediately to his right at a meeting of about 30 Latino leaders in Texas.

The Senate has yet to schedule her confirmation hearings, but Treasury Department officials expect them to start within six weeks.

The treasurer is largely a ceremonial position. Many duties involve promoting new coins or paper currency. Among Marin's first duties would be the unveiling of Vermont's new quarter coin. She will also provide to engravers 12 samples of her signature, one of which will be chosen to adorn the country's paper currency.

Her critics, who accused her of missing too many council meetings and misusing her travel budget, say they are happy to see her go.

"Let Mr. Bush have her. . . . God be with him," said Linda Guevara, a fierce council opponent.

But supporters credit her for remaining close to her roots by living in a modest neighborhood, and for continuing to spend time walking in the poor areas whose residents voted her into office. Her work, they say, has transcended party affiliation.

"She's a Republican, but she has the heart of a Democrat" said Rosa Mesa, a longtime supporter. "Her nomination gives me pride as a woman and as a Latina."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Rosario Marin

* Born: Aug. 4, 1958

* Residence: Huntington Park

* Education: Bachelor's degree, business administration, Cal State Los Angeles

* Career highlights: Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Award, 1995. Elected to Huntington Park City Council, 1994, reelected 1999. Worked seven years for former Gov. Pete Wilson.

* Family: Married to Alvaro Marin, with three children, Eric, 15, Carmen, 11, Alex, 9.

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