Emanuel Pleitez, former assistant to incumbent Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and a veteran of Goldman Sachs and the Obama administration's Treasury Department transition team, hopes to become the first Los Angeles mayor of Salvadoran descent.
"The city of Los Angeles needs a mayor who knows how to talk to its different communities and feel what they feel," Pleitez, who grew up in low-income neighborhoods of South Los Angeles, told Efe.
"I'm probably the only candidate who can talk to bankers and tell them what's best for our communities with the same confidence that I can talk to some gangbanger and tell him that what he is doing makes our people suffer," he said.
Born on Dec. 15, 1982 in Los Angeles, Pleitez is the son of Isabel Bravo, a native of the Mexican border city of Mexicali, and Manuel Pleitez, who fled war-torn El Salvador en 1980.
"My father told me that government agents attacked him and shot him in the shoulder because he knew some of the guerrillas and in the government they said he was involved with them," Pleitez said.
"He met my mother at church in Mexicali where he was a refugee and a year later my mom, who had some relatives in Los Angeles, crossed the border without realizing she was pregnant. So she got in touch with my father and he also crossed the border without papers - that's how I came to be born here," the mayoral candidate said.
The election for mayor of Los Angeles will be on May 21, 2013, and up to now there are eight candidates besides Pleitez.
City Council members Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry and City Controller Wendy Gruel are viewed as front-runners.
"My political work started long before I was personal assistant to Antonio Villaraigosa, from the time he ran for city councilor in 2003 until he won the post of mayor in 2005," Pleitez recalled.
"In 2008 Obama won the presidential election and he called me to join a team of 23 people working on the transition of the Department of the Treasury between the administrations of George Bush and Barack Obama," he said.
In 2009 Pleitez ran for Congress for District 32, a vacancy left by Hilda Solis when she became labor secretary in the Obama administration. He lost, but garnered 14 percent of the vote.
"That experience taught me that when people see someone running for office, they want him to listen to them, they want their words to matter to him, and that's something the so-called experts don't understand because they never get out and talk with the people," Pleitez said.
The candidate for mayor was a management consultant with McKinsey & Co. and a trader at Goldman Sachs. Because of his experience Obama called him again after his failed congressional bid to serve as special assistant to former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.
"My Salvadoran people should feel proud to know that in these elections we'll have the chance to elect a Salvadoran mayor of Los Angeles," Pleitez said.
"We Salvadorans have to understand that charisma alone isn't enough to run for office - we have to go to college and get on-the-job experience to compete for leadership positions," he said.