President-elect Trump has chosen as one of his closest advisers an economist whose early political career was marked by left-wing opposition to real estate development, work which made Trump famous.

Peter Navarro, Trump’s new White House trade czar, ran for mayor of San Diego in 1992 with the backing of the local Democratic machine. Four years later, Navarro ran for Congress as a Democrat, and received substantial support from Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee who was then the first lady.

Navarro, 67, didn’t win either of those races, or the few other campaigns for various local offices he waged in the San Diego area while also working as an economist and college professor.

But GOP operatives who advised the Republicans who defeated Navarro in those contests describe him as a candidate who ran as a liberal environmentalist who made opposition to residential and commercial development the centerpiece of his political activism.

“The focus of his message, as it related to economics, was bashing the undo influence of the development industry in California,” said Tom Shepard, a GOP consultant in California. Shepard advised Susan Golding, the Republican who defeated Navarro in the 1992 mayors race.

That Navarro would go to work for Trump isn’t shocking. They tend to agree on trade and economic policy.

But political operatives who have followed Navarro’s career say it’s ironic that he would end up serving under a career real estate developer. The Navarro they knew in the 1990s, Republicans say, wasn’t reflexively liberal on every issue. But on matters important to the business community, and especially to real estate developers, Navarro was described by one GOP operative as “anti-business and anti-growth.”

In the late 1980s, as Trump was making a name for himself as a high-flying Manhattan developer, Navarro was the chairman of the group “Prevent Los Angelization Now” (PLAN). The group’s goal was to prevent San Diego from turning into another version of dense, fast-growing Los Angeles.

“What particularly enrages the group’s chairman, Peter Navarro, an economist at the University of California at Irvine, is development in which the tops of hillsides are cut off and used to fill in the canyons to provide a table for high-density ‘condo farming,'” the New York Times reported in an article published on July 9, 1989.

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Hugh Hewitt, a conservative talk radio host based in Southern California who is an attorney specializing in land-use and environmental law, described Navarro as a “lefty no-growther” in a Thursday Twitter post. “Peter is a friend and has been 4 years … and he’s a Democrat (or was) and a lefty no-growther. MSM needs to report diversity in [Trump] appointments.”

Trump this week appointed Navarro to serve as assistant to the president and director of trade and industrial policy in the newly created White House National Trade Council. Navarro is a longtime critic of U.S. trade policy, especially as it relates to China.

He was a key adviser to Trump during the campaign, and bringing him into the West Wing fits with the president-elect’s plan to impose tariffs on foreign imports from countries that he believes have an unfair advantage over domestic manufacturers.

“I read one of Peter’s books on America’s trade problems years ago and was impressed by the clarity of his arguments and thoroughness of his research,” Trump said in a statement. “He has presciently documented the harms inflicted by globalism on American workers.”

Navarro’s involvement in politics has tracked somewhat similarly to that of his new Oval Office boss.

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Those who observed him years ago in San Diego describe him as charismatic and a maverick. He ran for office as a Democrat and an independent but has never been too attached to any political party. Trump over the years has identified as a Democrat and an independent.

In 1992, Navarro won the all-party primary for San Diego mayor, but lost the runoff to Golding. Two years later he lost a bid for a seat on the San Diego Board of Supervisors. In 1996, his bid for Congress was thwarted by Republican Rep. Brian Bilbray, who has since retired.

Navarro spoke at the 1996 Democratic convention in support of President Bill Clinton’s re-election, video of which was posted by the San Diego Union Tribune. In 2001, Navarro tried one more time, and lost his campaign for a seat on the San Diego City Council.

The knock on Navarro was that he was a political chameleon, attempting to be all things to all people, and that the extent to which he had a political career was made possible by his ability to self-finance his campaigns. Republicans usually ran against him as being untrustworthy and lacking any core ideology.

“He was never very highly regarded by mainstream Democrats, who viewed him as a dilettante and self-impressed egomaniac, instead of a serious political player with a well-defined political philosophy,” said Garry South, a veteran Democratic political consultant in California. “His toadying up to Trump in this election was viewed as just more of the same.”

The Trump transition office did not respond to a request for comment.

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