Emanuel Pleitez is running for mayor. But at this moment, he is jogging for mayor — in sneakers and baby-blue athletic shorts down a sidewalk in Reseda.
By all accounts, the lanky former tech company executive is a long-shot candidate. He is fifth in the polls and has raised only nickels compared with the top contenders in the Los Angeles race. Many voters don't even know his name.
But Pleitez, 30, is an optimist, and his thinking goes like this: If people just get the chance to meet him, they might vote for him. So in the days leading up to Tuesday's primary election, he is running 100 miles across the city in a grueling effort to introduce himself to as many of them as possible.
Half an hour into the first leg of his journey, Pleitez, a marathoner, is breathing easily and looking strong. Spotting a man waiting at a bus stop, he lopes over and offers a sweaty handshake.
"Hi there. Emanuel Pleitez!" he says, jogging in place. "Are you voting on March 5th? Do you know about the election?"
"No," the man says, averting his eyes. "I'm not, actually."
"Well, can you tell your family about me?" Pleitez asks. The man ignores him and starts typing on his phone.
Pleitez turns to a pair of teenagers nearby. They inform him between giggles that they aren't old enough to vote. "Facebook me!" he pleads. "And tell your parents! I'm the second one on the ballot."
Because he lacks the money for expensive television ads and mailers, Pleitez has waged an extensive door-knocking campaign since he declared his candidacy last summer, focusing especially on working-class and Latino neighborhoods in the south and east. One take-away so far, he says, is that most people in the city are woefully disengaged from city politics. Pleitez blames L.A.'s elected leaders for not doing more to reach out to them.
"These politicians never walk the streets," he says. "We need to generate excitement about the election." He hopes his epic run, which will take him from Canoga Park all the way to San Pedro, will help do that.
This is not the first time Pleitez, once an aide to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, has sought elected office. When he was just 26, he ran to succeed Hilda Solis in the U.S. House of Representatives and lost.
He's gotten more traction in the mayor's race, surprising many when he raised enough money to qualify for city matching funds last fall. That earned him a spot at some mayoral forums and televised debates.
A college rugby player who earned 19 varsity letters in high school, Pleitez says he isn't daunted by the physical challenge of traversing 20 miles a day five days in a row, although he does have concerns about blisters and chafing ("You don't have to put that part in the newspaper," he says).
That said, he has reserved the right to bicycle some of the route if necessary and has planned his exertion for the afternoons so he can keep previously scheduled commitments, including an appearance at a debate on Friday. The details of where and when he'll shower before that debate are still up in the air, said Pleitez spokeswoman Jocelyn Sida.
Sida is a typical member of the campaign's staff. A 23-year-old on leave from Stanford Law School, she is very enthusiastic, if not very experienced or always well-organized. Just a few miles into Pleitez's run, she and other staffers lost track of him, frustrating some of the journalists documenting the event.
Sida started working for Pleitez in January, and said his run across the city fit with the ethos of the campaign, which, she said, "has been different this whole time." She envisions the 100-mile journey turning into a community event, kind of like that moment in the movie "Forrest Gump" when strangers start following the main character in a cross-country run.
But on this first leg, it is just Pleitez and his wife, Rebecca, 28, who is working for the campaign full time. Wearing pearl earrings and her hair in a bun, she has been lagging several blocks behind but has just caught up.
The couple trot in silence for a few moments, until Rebecca spies a group of young men sitting on a porch on the other side of the street. Pleitez waves his arms in the air as she calls across four lanes of traffic. "Hey guys, my husband's running for mayor of Los Angeles!" she shouts. "His name's Emanuel Pleitez and you need to vote!"