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Candidate With a Ghost of a Chance

Many years ago, in a flight of fancy that amused me to no end, I created a presidential candidate. He seldom appeared in public and campaigned mainly with 10-second ads. He never said anything of substance but became so popular that he easily won the White House.

I called him Bob. His campaign slogan was “Just Bob.” When reporters asked where he lived, he replied, “in a house.”

With rib-ticklers like that sprinkled throughout the column, I considered it a brilliant social satire on voters casting ballots for someone they knew nothing about. I couldn’t have been more pleased with my cleverness.

Rather than complimenting me on the piece, people scorned me. Too cute by half, they said. How dare you make fun of voters?

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Little did they suspect back then that Orange County would develop a real-life Bob.

Turns out his name is Steve.

He’s not just Steve, though. He’s Steve Rocco. He’s not fictional, but as we reported last week, he’s the next-best thing. Nobody seems to know a darn thing about him.

Steve won a seat on the Orange Unified School District board, but no one seems to know how or why. He didn’t campaign, file a candidate statement or appear at a community forum. When the school district sent him mail during the campaign, it was returned unopened. Invited to a PTA candidates forum, he returned the registered letter with this reply: “Refused.”

This information is all the product of research by one of our crack reporters, who also tried without success to contact him at his home. The president of the teachers union told her: “We have never seen him.”

Yet, Steve won. And it’s not like he eked out a victory in an obscure race in which 30 people voted. The man -- we think he’s a man -- received 24,749 votes. He defeated Phil Martinez -- who campaigned in the normal way and spent $6,000 -- by nearly 3,600 votes.

I’ve been scratching my head all day and can’t fathom how a phantom could get 24,749 votes.

Unless, of course ...

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I toyed with the notion that voters in Orange are clueless. Nah, can’t be. Surely they wouldn’t entrust a seat on the school board to someone they knew nothing about. Not with nearly 32,000 students in the district and a budget of more than $230 million.

Surely they take their votes more seriously than that. They must have intuited something about Steve. Or collectively channeled him. Perhaps they just liked the sound of Rocco, sensing strength and wisdom in such a sturdy-sounding name.

Obviously, they found something more appetizing than Martinez’s credentials: park ranger, father of three children in the district and president of a local PTA.

Another Orange board member told our reporter that people are trying to figure out who Steve is. She heard through the grapevine that he rides a bicycle and likes garage sales, but doesn’t know if that’s true.

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Steve sounds more like my Bob all the time, who told voters after he won the presidency that he wouldn’t be staying in the White House but wouldn’t say where he would live. Nor, he said, would he attend the presidential inaugural.

You’re a fool, people told me then. Voters would never elect someone like that. How dare I disparage the sanctity of election day.

Cut to last week, when school district lawyers told our reporter that they have no idea if Steve will be at his swearing-in ceremony Dec. 9. Nor are they sure what to do if he isn’t.

I admit to a kinship with Steve. I didn’t create Bob as an evil character. He was a nice guy with ambition who preferred to keep to himself. He might have made a fine president.

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With that in mind, here’s wishing Steve the best of luck.

Dana Parsons can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana

.parsons@latimes.com. An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.


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