Costa Mesa Mayor Allan Mansoor at Fairview Park. (SCOTT SMELTZER, Daily Pilot / July 8, 2010)

COSTA MESA — When the taco truck blaring "La Cucaracha" would roll down his street, Allan Mansoor thought less about lunch and more about the song's title, "The Cockroach." He felt the so-called "roach coaches" were proliferating and changing the character of his once-peaceful neighborhood.

Same goes for the push-cart vendors who rang their bells as they peddled "helados." And the slouches who would leave beer bottles in the alley.

When he started protesting about this at City Hall, Mansoor just wanted one thing for his Westside neighborhood: quiet.

Now that he's the mayor of Costa Mesa and running for the state Assembly, he looks back on those quality-of-life issues that made him mad enough to get involved and, in 2002, sparked his political career.

"A person's home should be peace and quiet," said Mansoor, 46. "You can get away from life, from your boss. It's your castle."

That may explain why Mansoor lets his public castle, City Hall, get so rancorous. He has taken on some of the day's most controversial issues, from illegal immigration to public employee pension reform, and exposed himself to public scrutiny. Much of the criticism comes from the political left, while a quieter conservative majority continues to take his side on election days.

Adopting the reserved demeanor of a former cop, he lacks the charismatic, outsized personality of many controversial figures, making him something of a firebrand sans the fire, those who know him say.

"He carries a quiet authority," said Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, a fellow Republican who represents neighboring cities, including Newport Beach and a fraction of Costa Mesa. "He expresses his beliefs with a calm assurance and dignity, without anything to prove personally."

Mansoor's guarded, quiet manner leaves many guessing about his character. Is he simply a law-and-order politician — a former Orange County deputy sheriff whose reserve served him well guarding the county jail — or is there something under the surface?

More than a dozen interviews with his colleagues, allies and detractors reveal a faithfully conservative politician with divisive views and a firmly middle-class background. Many, after knowing him for years, still can't tell you much about him — as a person.

Councilman Eric Bever, who often votes with Mansoor on major city issues, put it bluntly: "There's not a lot of personality there."


The defining issue: Illegal immigration

The most controversial issue Mansoor has addressed is illegal immigration. Long before Arizona passed Senate Bill 1070, he introduced his own measure in 2005 to have Costa Mesa police officers check the immigration status of suspects.

Mansoor attracted national attention for that, and did the same in April when he announced that Costa Mesa would not tolerate illegal immigrants. It isn't a "sanctuary city," he proclaimed, but a "rule of law" city. In both instances the City Council, save for one or two members, followed Mansoor's lead and passed the measures.

A hard-line, though ceremonial, stance against illegal immigration is remarkable for a city with a heavily-Latino Westside, including many immigrants, legal and illegal. They have shaped Costa Mesa's identity for decades.

Some, including Mansoor, welcome those who immigrated here through the proper process. But he would like to see those lawbreakers deported.

Critics denounced Mansoor for releasing his "rule of law" proposal during the primary races, right after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer introduced her state's bill. They also complained that the proclamation was nothing but grandstanding, as it had no enforceable provisions.

At the time, the national news outlets were lapping up everything on immigration. Fox News featured Mansoor on multiple segments. In his trademark dark suit, he explained that it "sets the tone on policy" and that he would soon introduce more specific rules.

Years earlier, Mansoor advocated for closing a city-subsidized day labor center, where many immigrants found work, and he benefited from the same sort of attention.