Toasted Toes All Around
Well, now, that was interesting! Thursday night city council candidates from both Newport Beach and Costa Mesa were grilled by high-powered local media types for ninety minutes on what was supposed to be a menu of issues common to both cities. It didn't quite work out that way.
COSTA MESA CANDIDATES EDGED ASIDE
For the most part, Costa Mesa candidates Sue Lester, Chris McEvoy, Wendy Leece, Chad Petschl and Jim Righeimer were steamrollered by the sometimes agitated and boisterous exchange between Newport Beach candidates Ed Reno, Rush Hill, Mark Tabbert and Leslie Daigle and the panel of interrogators.
Before going further, I think most of us in the crowd at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center would agree that this was a good first effort at a combined forum. More than 100 guests seemed to enjoy the banter among the panelists and candidates - they may have even learned something. Vivacious moderator Barbara Venezia attempted to keep the panelists, Frank Mickadeit, Roger Bloom, Norberto Santana, Jr. and John Canalis, moving along with the questions. She could have used a whip last night.
MICKADEIT LIGHTS THE FIRE
Billed as the "Feet To The Fire Forum", it did, indeed, begin that way when Orange County Register columnist Frank Mickadeit launched right into Jim Righeimer on the DUI checkpoint issue and tried to get him to commit to a course of action to "fix" the problem. Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis followed that flurry of rights and lefts with a solid punch to the gut to Righeimer by asking him about "the letter" - the missive sent to me and some members of employee bargaining units demanding a cessation of questions on three issues Righeimer felt should be off limits. Joseph Serna has an excellent article in the Daily Pilot on that subject, which you can read HERE.
ALL BETS ARE OFF
During his long response, sometimes interrupted by Mickadeit and others, Righeimer mentioned at least one of the "forbidden topics", bankruptcy. As far as I'm concerned, that changes the rules of the public discourse of those issues. I was willing to abide by the demands of Righeimer's lawyer, Mark Bucher, and avoid any discussion of that issue and the others. But, if Righeimer feels this is a one-way street he's sadly mistaken. He can't have it both ways. He can't forbid critics, through threat of legal action, to discuss what he's uncomfortable with, then talk about the issue himself. As mentioned in my previous post, I discussed one of the issues a couple years ago. The shadow of "bankruptcy" hovered around Righeimer at the time. You can read my post on that subject HERE. I've not discussed it again.
RIGHEIMER CONTINUES TO PROVOKE
That discussion morphed into a broader discussion of police salaries and benefits, with Righeimer, once again, looking directly at the members of the Costa Mesa public safety bargaining units present in the audience as he continued his attack. His supporters scattered throughout the crowd gave him applause. Wendy Leece, for her part, tried to quell the frothing speakers by taking a more reasoned, mature approach by suggesting that we follow the process in place to reach agreement.
A sidebar on Righeimer - a friend sitting near me rose to get a cup of coffee at this time, took my pen and scrawled a note on my pad - "He talks too much!" - referring to Righeimer's comments. I couldn't help but smile.
MCEVOY RE-DIRECTS THE DISCUSSION
Second-time candidate Chris McEvoy attempted to provide some perspective on the discussion of those "greedy unions" by suggesting firmly that we shouldn't ignore the impact of big businesses on elections - referring to their contributions that provide the fuel for campaigns.
LESTER, THE CANNABIS CANDIDATE
Canalis talked with Sue Lester about being identified as the "cannabis candidate", which morphed into a free-for-all discussion on medical marijuana and whether it should be dispensed without legal jeopardy. (Lester is the cover girl for the current issue of the OC Weekly. You can read the long article about her in that publication HERE.) Righeimer indicated he thought it should be regulated, taxed and sold at Walgreens. Chad Petschl and Chris McEvoy agreed. Wendy Leece said NO. This is not really a "Newport Beach" issue, but each candidate gave a view - Rush Hill said NO, Ed Reno was vague, but implied it should be fully regulated, Mark Tabbert went off on a homage to retired judge Jim Gray, then finally said he didn't have enough information and Leslie Daigle got off one of the best quips of the night when she said she was worried about whether people "should be able to ride bicycles on the boardwalk while using Medical Marijuana". She brought down the house and deflected the serious issue.
JOHN WAYNE AIRPORT
Conversation turned to John Wayne Airport - a subject that affects both communities. The Costa Mesa candidates were kind of edged out of this one. This brief discussion got mired down in dates - when does the curfew expire, etc. I was disappointed in the brevity and quality of this discussion.
Voice of OC Editor Norberto Santana, Jr, launched the discussion of the Orange County Fairgrounds Sale, postulating to the Costa Mesa candidates that the process has been far from transparent. Wendy fought to support what has happened, laying blame on the State for it's imposition of unrealistic deadlines. Righeimer suggested that we just let it lie for now. (After the meeting uber political consultant Dave Ellis - Vice Chairman of the Fair Board - sought me out and told me he had heard that at least two bids had been received by Thursday's deadline for replying to the new RFP. Funny, Ellis doesn't really look much like the devil some portray him to be) Sue Lester pointed out that Katrina Foley had continually called for more deliberation before approving an obviously incomplete lease agreement. McEvoy expressed concern about the latitude the Joint Powers Authority will have in the future.
NEWPORT BEACH CITY HALL
Then the panel launched off into a discussion of the Newport Beach City Hall - a fascinating subject, but not on the agenda of any Costa Mesa resident or council candidate. I suspect that subject was raw meat for the Newporters present. Actually, it was fascinating how little some of the Newport Beach candidates actually knew about this expensive project. Lots of misinformation was tossed back and forth until Rush Hill took charge and set the record straight. Daigle acknowledge the need for an overseer for this project, using her personal experience of replacing windows in her home as an example of her own, personal ill-preparedness for such a task. More chuckles. Ed Reno, Hills opponent, admitted he had attended exactly none of the 32 public meetings on the City Hall. Hill advised the group that the project was presently $5 million under budget. Great news, if true.
A FORUM UNLIKE ANY OTHER
This forum was a stark contrast to any other I've attended. To say it was conducted casually is a major understatement, particularly for those of us used to a much more structured, formal program. Mistress of ceremonies and moderator Barbara Venezia puts on a heck of a show. I kept waiting for performers from Cirque du Soleil to drop from the ceiling on ropes at any time. Because it was not tightly controlled - another understatement - they never did get to the Banning Ranch issue, which was too bad. It's a sore subject in both cities and deserved to have some vetting last night.
COSTA MESA TOOK BACK SEAT
I think, probably because of the strong Newport Beach orientation by the hosts, the Costa Mesa candidates got short shrift last night. Clearly, there were much stronger personalities on the Newport Beach side of the stage. I met Chad Petschl before and after the forum - he's a nice guy, but in way, way over his head. He's so new to our community that he simply has no grasp at all of major civic issues. I hope he'll stay involved, though. Chris McEvoy aggressively jumped into the discussion when he had a contribution to make. Sue Lester tried to demonstrate her breadth of interest beyond cannabis several times, while Wendy Leece just kind of waited to be asked questions. Righeimer, once out of his comfort zone attacking unions and discussing the Fairgrounds, contributed little.
A WORTHY EXPERIMENT - WORTH DOING AGAIN
This was a worthy experiment and actually came off better than I expected. I think there is real value to future joint forums, but they should be more tightly controlled so issues get fully vetted. At times last night I had the impression I was witnessing a bar discussion during half-time of an important football game. Then, again, I think that's the atmosphere Venezia was looking for. I hope future elections will see other joint forums between candidates from both cities.
Newport Television taped the proceedings for later viewing. It's my understanding that a copy of their show will be provided to Costa Mesa Television for addition to the rotation on Channel 24 (99 on ATT UVerse). I doubt very much that we'll see it before next week some time. I'll let you know when I hear it's available for viewing - it's worth your time.
KUDOS TO ALL
Thanks to Barbara Venezia, John Canalis, Roger Bloom, Norberto Santana, Jr and Frank Mickadeit for grilling the candidates. Kudos to all.
FOLEY'S FLYING THUMBS
NOTE: If you're a Facebook Friend of Katrina Foley, go to her Wall and check out her real-time account of the action at the forum. She did a great job capturing the moments. Just watching her pound out the play-by-play made my thumbs hurt!
COSTA MESA UNITED FORUM NEXT
Next stop for the Campaign Express is Wednesday, October 6th, also at the Neighorhood Community Center, when Costa Mesa United will host a forum with all the Costa Mesa City Council candidates as well as Newport-Mesa Unified School District candidates involved in contested races. That show begins at 6 p.m. and will run until 8 or 9, depending on which notice you read. I'll remind you next week. See you there...
Labels: Candidate Forum