Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Emanuel Pleitez sprints to the finish in long-shot run for Los Angeles mayor

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The conventional wisdom in Los Angeles is that Emanuel Pleitez’s campaign for mayor is going nowhere. If so, it’s definitely going nowhere fast.

The 30-year-old former tech executive is spending his final days running for mayor performing a low-tech, high-speed publicity stunt designed to increase name recognition.

The week before election day, he will run 100 miles, snaking his way from the San Fernando Valley to San Pedro.

“We’ve got to get to as many voters as possible,” Pleitez said. “We’ve been doing this since July, and we’ve still got more voters to go. We count the hours in the campaign.”

Pleitez needs to shake a lot of hands to have a chance in the race. The two leading candidates have $4 million war chests and rosters of high-profile endorsements. Pleitez has neither.

With handshakes and phone calls alone, the insurgent campaign hopes to pull in the 100,000 votes he says he needs to make a run-off.

Pleitez’s runs take him through mostly poorer Latino neighborhoods. These communities are often overlooked by the major campaigns, the candidate said.

He corners moms picking up their children from day care. He buttonholes mechanics and hospital workers just getting home from work.

Fernando Guerra, a political scientist at Loyola Marymount University, said Pleitez is definitely running a different kind of campaign but probably not different enough.

His candidacy has gained some momentum, ticking up from around 2 percent to above 5 percent in some polls run by the campaigns, Guerra said.

But the momentum may have come too late for Pleitez to join the ranks of outsider candidates that have made an impact on past Los Angeles mayoral races.

“When you think about outsiders, the most significant type of outsiders are either someone with a lot of money or someone with celebrity status,” Guerra said. “Pleitez has neither one.”

Pleitez has a rags-to-riches biography. His parents are both immigrants: his father from El Salvador and his mother from Mexico.

In his early life, he moved around neighborhoods in South and East Los Angeles with his mother and sister. The family eventually settled in El Sereno.

Pleitez’s accompanied his mother when she sold second-hand clothes on the sidewalks in the neighborhood, and he handled many of the family’s financial and legal needs.

“It happens to a lot of immigrant families, especially single-parent families,” Pleitez said. “They immediately become principles of their homes. I had to immediately become a decision maker.”

Pleitez touts his hardscrabble upbringing on the campaign trail. He cites one friend in particular, who fell into a life of gangs and violence.

Pleitez took another path.

He went to Stanford University and took a year off during undergrad to work on the mayoral campaign of then-Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa.

After graduation, he went on to work for Goldman Sachs and later with the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. He returned to Los Angeles when he joined the top-flight consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

Most recently, he was chief strategy officer for a Pasadena-based tech company called Spokeo .

The company combines public records and social media profiles for easy searching. Pleitez worked for the company at a time when they came under fire for violating users’ privacy.

Spokeo President Harrison Tang said the company brought Pleitez in to add a diverse skillset to a team of engineers. Pleitez worked on public policy questions related to standing up one of the most sprawling and deepest people search tools on the web.

The company experienced explosive growth during Pleitez's time there, nearly doubling its staff, Tang said.

"When a company grows to our size, we have, not only a lot of users but a lot of public agents, they want to talk to us," Tang said. "Before, we didn't have anybody that was well-versed to interface with them."

On the stump, Pleitez talks about his impatience with the inefficiencies of local government. He cites businessmen and technocrats as the sources of many of his ideas. At the same time, he emphasizes his first-hand knowledge of the rougher parts of Los Angeles.

If elected, he says he would slash public pensions and pour that money into neighborhood services.

His campaign is staffed with young activists from neighborhoods around L.A., including students taking time off from elite universities and Obama for America volunteers looking for the next big thing.

Twenty of those staffers live in one house in South Los Angeles and the atmosphere at Pleitez headquarters feels like the more energetic days of Obama’s first campaign for president.

A group of 20-somethings are scattered across his office at the intersection of the I-5 freeway and East Cesar Chavez Avenue in Boyle Heights.

Some chain smoke on the back patio as they call voters and brainstorm ways to convince Pleitez to appear in a Harlem Shake video .

Pleitez claims his voter identification efforts and high-speed canvassing make his campaign more efficient than his top-tier challengers.

“All of their consultants are the consultants that have been doing campaigns for the last 20 years in L.A.,” Pleitez said. “They're not really thinking about new strategies.”

But Pleitez has fallen short before.

In 2009, he ran for a congressional seat representing northeast L.A. and lost to Democrat Judy Chu. Gil Cedillo finished second, Pleitez third.

Fernarndo Guerra from Loyola Marymount University says Pleitez cost Cedillo valuable Latino votes. His campaign could have the same effect on the L.A. mayoral race.

“If people do consider Eric Garcetti Latino, then if he has an impact in making him lose, this will be twice that he’s run that he’s cost Latinos a chance to win a seat," said Guerra.

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