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.
"I was just speaking up for what I believed," Mansoor said in an interview. "Of course, I was controversial, so that got me a lot of free publicity in the paper."
And if he joins the Assembly's Republican Caucus, he could bring some of the same controversy to Sacramento.
"He could take a lead role in advocating and trying to push for immigration reform," said Republican state Sen. Tom Harman, who represents Costa Mesa.
DeVore agreed, saying, "He's going to be driving the idea train."
But some believe that Mansoor's hard stance on illegal immigration would handicap him in the Assembly, should he be elected.
"There are some Democratic legislators that are looking to punish Costa Mesa for taking those anti-immigrant and anti-Latino positions," said Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana), a member of the Latino Caucus.
Other Latino lawmakers have threatened to derail the city's pending purchase of the Orange County Fairgrounds from the state, citing Mansoor and his immigration policies. Though speaking only for himself, Solorio has said he is not trying to block the $96-million sale.
Taking a risk with minority voters
Alienating ethnic groups, especially large voting blocks, is perhaps Mansoor's tallest election hurdle.
The 68th Assembly District is reliably Republican — in the 2008 general election 42% of registered voters were Republican and 33% Democratic — but Mansoor is running against a Vietnamese businessman from Westminster in one of the most Vietnamese areas in the world.
Democrat Phu Nguyen is the vice president of a remittance company for Vietnamese-Americans and has strong ties to local groups in Little Saigon, the Vietnamese enclave around Westminster and Garden Grove. Orange County Vietnamese immigrants have traditionally voted Republican, but some experts believe they may shift their support to Nguyen.
"Vietnamese are clearly sensitive to being immigrants here because many of them are such recent arrivals," said Tony Quinn, a Sacramento political analyst. "That is dangerous ground for Mansoor."
Mansoor is the son of two immigrants — a mother from the Aland Islands, a region of Finland, and a father from Egypt. While Mansoor acknowledges his heritage, he doesn't publicly embrace it nearly as much as Nguyen, whose website appears in Vietnamese, English and Spanish.
"I grew up with an American culture, but that doesn't mean that my parents' heritage was diminished in any way," Mansoor said.
Ethnic allegiances may be key in the fall contest.
Veteran political consultant Allan Hoffenblum said Vietnamese account for about 20% of voters in the Assembly district, and they could turn out for Nguyen because he's more aligned with their issues.
One such voter is Nguyen Thengoc, 78, a Fountain Valley resident who has voted reliably Republican for the past 10 years. An immigrant, Thengoc said that Mansoor hasn't reached out to the Vietnamese community, while Nguyen comes to all of its events.
"We need someone who works for the American community, and also works for ethnic Americans," he said.
Another group that may oppose Mansoor is the Arab-American community. Recently, the editor of an Arab-American newspaper in Anaheim (sections of which are known as Little Arabia to some) penned an anti-Mansoor missive. He said Mansoor was afraid to embrace his father's Egyptian roots.
"As we say in Arabic, he who forgets his origin has no origin," wrote Sami Bishara Mashney, editor of the Independent Monitor.
A son of immigrants
As soon as Mansoor starts talking about his parents' background, he makes the point that they assimilated. His mother, Maj-Gun, cooked both Swedish food and Middle Eastern food, he said, but English was always spoken at home.
"When my mom came here," Mansoor said, "my grandmother said to her, 'You're not in Sweden anymore. You have to learn English.' And my mom learned it, within a few months."
Edgard Mansoor, his father, was the son of prominent Egyptian antiquities dealer. A news profile from early in Allan Mansoor's political career said that a Colorado senator had sponsored Edgard's citizenship. Allan Mansoor wouldn't confirm this, but said that it was a lengthy process for his parents.
"It was not easy to do it the right way, but that's what they did," Mansoor said.
His Egyptian ancestors were in the Coptic Orthodox Church; Copts are the largest religious minority in Egypt. Allan Mansoor attended a Christian junior high school and now regularly attends Calvary Chapel, a local megachurch.
He married once, divorced, and has no children.
One of Allan Mansoor's brothers lives in San Clemente, while the other one lives near his parents in Virginia. His parents own an antique store there; they also ran antique and jewelry stores in San Juan Capistrano and in Newport Beach.
Allan Mansoor owns his parents' home in Virginia, he said.
"He's a good son," said city Planning Commissioner Jim Righeimer, who Mansoor appointed and who is making a council run of his own. "He's one of the most polite people you ever met."
That wasn't Mansoor's first real estate deal — in 1995 he bought a Westside Costa Mesa home for $147,500. After completely renovating it, he sold the property in 2005 for nearly $600,000, according to property records.
A blue-collar career
Mansoor was able to remodel his home on his own; he had worked in plumbing and construction before becoming a deputy sheriff in 1994.
His first taste of law enforcement was as a campus safety officer at Orange Coast College. He graduated in 1998 from Coastline Community College with an associate's degree.
Mansoor's law enforcement background has certainly shaped his perspective, he said. He worked at the Men's Central Jail in Santa Ana for the majority of his 15 years in the Orange County Sheriff's Department. From the jails, most deputies advance to a patrol assignment and never turn back, but Mansoor tried patrol and then returned to work in corrections.
"There was no way I could run my campaign, be effective and win, and stay on patrol," he said. The hours of patrol officers are much more demanding and less predictable, he said.
Like-minded former cops usually stick together, but the Orange County Assn. of Deputy Sheriffs will probably not support Mansoor, and may even support his rather liberal opponent, said Wayne Quint Jr., the union's president.
Public employee unions fought Mansoor when he signed the ballot argument for Proposition 75, the 2005 California measure that made it harder for unions to raise political funds. At the same time, he earned respect from conservatives who have long battled against generous pensions for public employees.
"As a sheriff's deputy, to be part of that fight, has obviously painted a target on his back," DeVore said. "But if you go tip-toeing around, you're not going to do the issues or your constituents justice."
Righeimer, who once wrote a column for the Daily Pilot, agreed. He speculates that the bold positions might be a reason Mansoor is so guarded: "He's taken on such big issues. People jump on everything he says, so he's careful."
It was certainly a strong statement signing Proposition 75 as a member of the sheriff's union, broadcasting Mansoor's contrarian stance to all California voters.
"Here's a guy who's reaping the benefits of a politically active association," said Quint, "and yet he's out there criticizing it at the same time."
Later, Mansoor withdrew his membership from the union because "I wasn't supportive of the things my union dues went to," he said.
That was in September, a few months before he resigned from the department because of time constraints, he said.
He also took on the unions in 2009 when he voted against lowering the retirement age for Costa Mesa firefighters. Only one other council member voted with him.
"I would have hoped he would have been a little more persuasive," said Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach, a Costa Mesa resident and longtime advocate of smaller government. "He can be stubborn. Sometimes that's an asset, sometimes that's a weakness."
On unions, as on illegal immigration, Mansoor comes down on one side of the issue and holds fast.
"Allan is a very soft-spoken, principled leader and when he gets into an issue he sticks with it," Righeimer said.
Councilwoman Katrina Foley has frequently butted heads with Mansoor. A Democrat among a Republican majority in what is technically a nonpartisan office, she is considered the City Council's lone progressive voice on many issues.
"To me, a good leader is willing to compromise, to listen to the other side," she said.
Seeking higher office
Republicans in Sacramento look to Mansoor to be a reliable conservative vote on pension reform and other key issues.
"He has an admirable amount of moral courage," said DeVore, who likes Mansoor's union stance.
Whether Mansoor could distinguish himself is another question. In an interview, he repeated the GOP doctrine of lower regulations and lower taxes. A picture of President Ronald Reagan is displayed prominently in his office.
"There is nothing that travels out of state faster than a rich person and their money," he said of California's high-tax — and some would label — anti-business climate.
Most of Mansoor's major campaign contributions have come from business interests, including real estate companies and an Indian tribe with gaming operations.
Besides his anti-illegal immigration and pension reform postures, Mansoor's agenda is rather non-descript. His website also calls for local control of schools, less government and better infrastructure.
"I'm not sure what else he stands for," Foley said.
Mansoor, though, would be one of a handful of lawmakers with a public safety background and would likely serve on that committee.
"He brings a very important nuts-and-bolts law enforcement perspective to the Senate," DeVore said.
Politics was never a career ambition, according to Mansoor. He just fell into it after protesting at council meetings about the Westside's troubles.
"I got into politics by accident," Mansoor said, "and just started speaking up on the issues. And as far as my personality, I don't know. I guess it's just the way I am."Copyright © 2015, CT Now