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Santa Ana councilwoman brashly challenges ex-hero

Ah, the brashness of youth. The sheer audacity of it. Imagine, the notion that a relatively unknown political figure, just a step or two up from the novice ranks, would dare take on a much more seasoned and politically connected officeholder.

Where do they get ideas like that?

We could ask Barack Obama, but why not pose the question instead to the effervescent and unfailingly optimistic Michele Martinez, who announced this week that she planned to unseat Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, first elected to the job in 1994 and who won his first council race in 1986 -- when Martinez was in second grade.

Martinez, 28, ran for her first elective office two years ago. She narrowly won her Santa Ana City Council seat in a four-candidate field while Pulido was running up nearly 70% of the vote in his mayoral reelection bid.

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Pulido is hardly the ancient mariner. He’s a trim and ready 52 years old and looking to maintain his control of the city.

Come to think of it, he once was a brash and audacious office-seeker himself. Now he’s establishment, and that’s how Martinez, 28, thinks she’ll win in November.

Is Martinez making a run this time to get a bit more visibility? To prepare herself for a subsequent run two years later?

“I actually think I can beat him,” she says. “I’m very certain I can win this election. Change is in the air. I never stopped campaigning” from her council victory two years ago.

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Her campaign pitch will be that Pulido represents the moneyed and establishment interests and largely ignores everyone else.

That has become the standard critique of Pulido, but he keeps winning elections.

Martinez acknowledges his “Godzilla” status as a political foe but recalls that once upon a time the mayor was a hero to her.

In fact, she says, he’s the reason she decided at 16 that she wanted to run for public office some day.

That’s when she was named Youth of the Year by the Boys & Girls Club and got her certificate from Mayor Pulido.

“I always admired him,” she says. “How he challenged the status quo to allow his father to continue operating his muffler shop.”

That squabble over eminent domain indeed helped fuel the Pulido story in Santa Ana, and he became the city’s first Latino mayor.

Martinez would be its first Latina mayor.

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She’s well aware Pulido will be as well financed as he needs to be. She hopes to raise $150,000 but has already heard that click on the phone from some potential donors who say they like her but don’t want to buck the mayor.

“We need a mayor who will work for everyone,” she says. “I don’t believe the mayor has. We need to bring balance, accountability and transparency. He hasn’t brought that in the last decade. He hasn’t had any [serious] challengers; he’s been very comfortable; he’s not been out in the community.”

Pulido no doubt finds that very amusing.

When it comes to Santa Ana politics, maybe no one is neutral, but Mary Bloom- Ramos, chairwoman of the federal Empowerment Zone Board in Santa Ana and a local resident, claims that mantle.

I asked whether Martinez has a chance.

“Pulido is vulnerable but not to Michele,” she says, with one caveat.

Because a significant segment of Santa Ana residents vote by mail before election day, Martinez could benefit, she says.

The conventional wisdom is that Martinez scored heavily that way in her 2006 council race and could do so again.

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Mail-in voters, Bloom-Ramos says, include a number of people who openly ask for help in filling out their ballots.

For whatever reasons, Bloom-Ramos says, the prevailing thesis in Santa Ana is that Martinez is more likely to garner support that way than Pulido.

On that provocative and mysterious note, let’s just say time will tell.

Martinez says she has no plans to be a career politician. If she loses the mayoral race this year, she’ll likely try again in 2010, she says. If she loses then, “I will call it a day.”

The lady plans to walk door-to-door during the campaign and does not lack for confidence. “People’s worst fear is self-doubt,” she says.

And does she suffer from self-doubt?

“Not at all,” she says. “I’m very optimistic.”

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Dana Parsons’ column appears Tuesdays and Fridays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana.parsons@latimes.com. An archive of his recent columns is at latimes.com/parsons.


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