The political consulting world was stunned this week by the death of California-based pollster André Pineda.
Pineda, who polled for President Obama in 2008, died early Tuesday morning. The 46-year-old took his own life.
It was a loss friends and colleagues found difficult to comprehend.
“André was the person that everybody in politics, and lots of people outside of politics, went to for a compassionate ear,” said Marty Stone, one of the many consultants who counted Pineda as a friend. “He was the strong, compassionate, caring type.”
“You wouldn’t think that he had any troubles,” Stone added. “He was always upbeat and positive. There was never a bad word out of Andre’s mouth.”
In the mid-1990s, Pineda worked for Rich Schlackman, whose firm at the time—MSHC Partners—was based in Washington, D.C. Schlackman recalled the aftermath of a serious traffic accident Pineda was in while riding his bike along Rock Creek Parkway. He was hospitalized, remaining in a coma for a couple of days. When he started to come to, Pineda began rattling off seemingly random numbers.
“The doctors were freaking out, thinking he was incoherent,” Schlackman recalled. In fact, the figures were from a campaign they were working on.
Pineda was known to his colleagues as an innovator. “Nothing was out of the question – in a good way,” Schlackman said. “He was always inquisitive, always trying something new.”
In 2008, Pineda was the pollster for former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson during the Democratic presidential primary. He later joined Obama’s general election campaign, where Pineda conducted surveys to help with Hispanic voter outreach.
Pineda encouraged his clients not to look at the Hispanic community as a monolithic bloc, but rather to probe its diverse communities and demographics.
“He did a lot of work on changing the polling community’s, and the larger political community’s perception of Hispanics,” said Stone.
Pineda also worked internationally, conducting surveys for clients in Latin America and Mexico. He was famous among his friends for sending photos of himself working at his laptop in exotic locales like Panama or Spain. Pineda had the freedom to work from anywhere because he ran a one-man shop.
“He did it all himself,” Stone said. “He wrote his questions, would field the survey, produce the crosstabs and report. He was, in a good way, a perfectionist. Pineda Consulting was André.”
Pineda still found time to mentor young political staffers, or share war stories with them over drinks. His civility, along with Pineda’s preference for corduroy blazers and caps, made him seem like he belonged to a different age when politics was less a bloodsport.
Stone recalled seeing Pineda last summer when he came to Washington for a White House dinner. He stopped by Stone’s F Street office for “wine Friday,” and mingled with his staff.
“He was a brilliant but humble guy,” Stone said. “It made him very easy to like.”
Pineda is survived by his wife, Araceli Ruano, a former top aide to Vice President Al Gore and the California director of the Center for American Progress. Ruano and Pineda both hailed from South Pasadena, California. They met through Pineda’s mother, according to Schlackman.
“He was looking for the love of his life,” he said. “André was devoted to her.”
Pineda’s career also included stints as the GOTV director of Janet Napolitano’s 2002 campaign for Arizona governor and as a top aide in the administration of former California Gov. Gray Davis. He also held positions at major polling firms, including Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Fairbank Maslin Maullin & Associates.
Services for Pineda are scheduled to take place at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday October 1 at Holy Family Church in South Pasadena, California.