Rocco Gives His Listeners an Earful
Orange Unified’s eccentric new trustee offers a five-minute diatribe after he is sworn in.
By Joel Rubin
Times Staff Writer
December 10, 2004
Curious to set their eyes on the reclusive, eccentric man they had unexpectedly voted into office, about 100 parents, teachers and officials in the Orange Unified School District turned out Thursday night to see Steve Rocco sworn in as a trustee.
If they came looking for a show, Rocco did not disappoint.
With camera shutters whirring, Rocco used his first chance to speak as an elected official to offer a rambling, agitated, five-minute diatribe that summarized his belief that Orange County is controlled by a cabal of corrupt politicians, judges and officials.
In Italian, he paid homage to his late father. Then switching to English, he said, “I am and always have been the anticorruption candidate,” adding later: “We are living in a time of secret organizations, living in a time of corruption and, most of all, living in a time of dictatorships.”
From the outset, Rocco signaled that his would not be the usual tenure. Dressed in black, he never removed his dark sunglasses or ski cap.
Before the meeting, he asked for — and received — a new chair, unhappy with the one he had first been given. When the audience and other trustees stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, he stood but did not speak.
And during a brief intermission, when other board members mingled with the crowd, Rocco disappeared and didn’t return until the meeting resumed.
Rocco, 53, stunned residents and political onlookers last month when he defeated a heavily favored candidate without so much as making a speech.
The victory was particularly surprising in a district that has seen its share of controversy and parent anger in recent years.
In the weeks following his victory, questions and speculation about Rocco intensified as he remained holed up in the house he shares with his mother.
A congratulatory letter from the teachers union was returned unopened.
Rocco surfaced last week when he agreed to an interview with The Times and public radio station KPCC-FM (89.3).
He deflected questions about his educational philosophy and his plans for the district, instead speaking vaguely about his theories concerning a group of county politicians, judges and officials that he calls “the partnership.”
He said they had spent 25 years trying to silence him as he worked to expose their trail of corruption and crime.
He also explained that he remained out of the spotlight after the election to mourn the recent death of his father.
Paul Pruss, president of the district’s teachers union, expressed concern about Rocco’s commitment to Orange Unified. “Leave the conspiracies to the FBI,” he said. “Here, our business is education. The trust that he’s been given by the voters is tremendous and I hope he honors that trust.”
More than 33,000 voted for Rocco, who decisively defeated a PTA president who had the support of teachers unions.
Wes Poutsma also was sworn in as a new trustee.