Feet To The Fire Fun
Now THAT was fun! Last night more than 300 of your friends and neighbors were treated to a very special event. Just enough tough questions, pressed for answers by the interrogators, to make it memorable. A leash just long enough to demonstrate which candidates found it necessary to disrupt the flow of the proceedings by inserting defensive comments out of turn. Plenty of audience interaction to let the candidates know, in real time, that some were simply not buying what they were selling. I don't recall any forum in recent years when candidates were actually boo'd by the audience, but that happened several times last night. And the interrogators had their feet held to the fire, too. As Jack Wu attempted to make a long, rambling statement one frustrated woman near me shouted out, "Just ask the question!" Yes, it was fun last night.
Barbara Venezia and her journalist cohorts, John Canalis, Roger Bloom, Jack Wu and Frank Mickadeit, did a terrific job - some better than others - of interrogating six Costa Mesa City Council Candidates last night. Venezia, decked out in brand new flaming leathers, picked up some of the slack created by the absence of panelist Norberto Santana, Jr., and expanded her moderatrix role to that of an interrogator, too. She frequently pressed her questions, not letting candidates slip off the hook. I had to smile as Bloom, normally a pretty easy-going guy, pressed candidates for answers. At one point he reminded Mensinger that he wasn't running for school board when his answer drifted too far. After his first question Mickadeit basically became an observer. Wu wore the mantle of pit bull last night, aiming his questions at the so-called challengers. Canalis warmed up slowly, then asked some tough questions as the event moved forward. As I said, it was fun.
GOOD QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
In the 90 minute program that just flew past candidates Sandy Genis, John Stephens, Harold Weitzberg, Colin McCarthy, Steve Mensinger and Gary Monahan all had their "squirm" moments and most of them handled them well.
At the beginning I thought that, as I had feared, this event was going to take a very decidedly "pro-3M" tilt when their drinking buddy, Mickadeit, started things off with a question directed at the three "challengers" - I guess Mickadeit is so close to our politics that he considers McCarthy an incumbent. Of course, he's not. Anyhow, he asked each whether they want to see Costa Mesa as a "Contract City" or a "Full Service City"? He wanted to know if they oppose all forms of contracting or just some.
MEASURED RESPONSES BY SOME
Weitzberg responded that we needed to be careful. Genis said before contracting out quantifiable and measurable studies should be conducted. She spoke of her previous tour on the city council from 1988 - 1996 and, referring to the current council's haste in their outsourcing scheme, said, "Before you jump off the high board be sure there's water in the pool."
MONAHAN DEFENSIVELY INTERRUPTS
Before Stephens could provide his answer Monahan butted in and referred to the alleged savings of $700,000 with the proposed Jail outsourcing to a private company and the alleged savings of $1.4 million by outsourcing Park Maintenance to a private company - both of which have been approved but await the resolution of the lawsuit. He also mentioned Payroll. Stephens finally had his chance to answer and said he would NOT outsource public safety and referred to selling off the assets - primarily fire fighting equipment - as trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube.
In broad brush strokes, here's my reaction to each of the candidates last night, presented in the order in which they sat on the stage last night.
He may have been the strongest, most articulate speaker last night. He answered the questions crisply and with confidence. He did not attempt to dodge the question that some voters will have about him - his wife's medical marijuana dispensary. He explained the background - her own personal pain and inability to find relief from it with traditional pharmaceuticals - that caused her to begin using medical marijuana for relief, then establish a safe, clean dispensary to help others in her situation. He supports a small, tightly-regulated medical marijuana industry in Costa Mesa. His explanation gave perspective to the broader discussion of the issue later.
If body language tells you anything, his slouching and smirking told me that he was peeved at actually having to answer the questions. He frequently interrupted the proceedings with condescending comments. Based on the crowd reaction, I suspect he didn't gain many voters last night. Sorry, I didn't have a usable photo of Colin from last night... he slouched down so far that I couldn't see him.
As a few people commented to me after the event, Mensinger finally heard how many people beyond his own small circle of acquaintances feel about him. His answers were the "most boo'd" last night. He took it in stride and continued to flex his ego at every opportunity. He, once again, mentioned that he didn't like the criticism because "his kids watch"... It seems to me that he is much too thin-skinned for public office. He's more suited - as he indicated when he was sworn in eighteen months ago - to coaching youth football. That's a place where being a dictator is acceptable behavior.
She clearly was comfortable on the stage. She answered the questions with facts and waited courteously to be recognized to respond to questions and statements of others. Her answers were authoritative, based on her previous eight years on the council and her professional background as a land use consultant and she appeared to keep her humor all evening.
Based on his performance last night, Monahan is in trouble. He was defensive most of the evening. When Venezia asked him directly about his ability to commit time to the job if re-elected, his answer was a classic tap-dance. We all recall that he stepped away from the mayor's position earlier this year, citing family and business demands. When Venezia pressed him he said he had time to be a council member, but didn't have time for "all that glad-handing" that being the mayor involved. Since he's recently missed all or big parts of recent meetings it's becoming increasingly clear that it's time for Gary to spend time where HE feels it's needed - with his family and business. This began on St. Patrick's Day, 2011, when he chose to stay at his bar, pulling beer taps on what he told a member of the media was "the biggest day of my life" rather than fulfill his responsibilities as mayor on the worst day in the City's history - the day of the 213 layoff notices and Huy Pham jumping off the roof. It's time for Gary to step away... the electorate should help him with that decision in November.
He may have been the best-prepared person on the stage last night. His responses to questions about Jim Righeimer's Charter were clear and carefully documented. He has actually recently read the charters for EVERY Orange County Charter City to put the proposed charter in perspective. He had chapter and verse down pat. He deftly deflected Mensinger's attempt to portray him as uninterested in Costa Mesa schools because his children have attended catholic schools by reiterating his heavy involvement in youth sports in town.
In addition to a discussion of Jim Righeimer's Charter - Righeimer was perched on a chair in the front of the room - the candidates fielded questions about the Banning Ranch traffic agreement, medical marijuana dispensaries, civility at council meetings and the obvious lack of involvement by Latinos in city government - something we here have mentioned several times over the years.
MENSINGER A BULLY?
When asked by Venezia why some folks consider him a bully, Mensinger answered, in part, "People who call you a bully usually don't like your decisions." As the audience groaned I found myself thinking, "No, Steve, it's because they don't like your actions!" Geez, is he obtuse!
DAMAGING THE COSTA MESA "BRAND"
A lively discussion ensued on the subject of Righeimer's recent unpleasant encounter with the CMPD. Weitzberg and Stephens criticized him for blowing it up into a national issue. Stephens said that by going on John and Ken (radio show) and being in the media non-stop for days that Righeimer damaged the "Costa Mesa Brand".
CANALIS ON THE CHARTER
When Canalis asked the Charter supporters why they did so, McCarthy said the city should have been a Charter City 59 years ago, and that we could save millions, following the Righeimer party line. Stephens rebutted with facts - pointing out that most of the California cities currently facing serious financial difficulties - bankruptcy, in many cases - were Charter cities. He went on to point out specific areas in Jim Righeimer's Charter that are problematic, specifically the one dealing with no-bid contracts and the deletion of a requirement for annual audits. Weitzberg pointed out that it does not enumerate council powers and, as a result, may be in violation of state laws passed to prohibit "Bell" situations.
BLOOM ON BANNING RANCH
Bloom brought up the Banning Ranch traffic mitigation agreement, pointing out that Newport Beach negotiated a deal with the developer that was ten-times more lucrative than Costa Mesa's. He asked why no hard-ball negotiations took place. Monahan attempted to explain that it was a good deal, better than we could have expected to receive legally because the project was not in Costa Mesa. Genis corrected him, pointing out the deals made in Irwindale, Walnut and Diamond Bar when a football stadium was planned for that area. She clearly demonstrated that it's helpful to be smart and have actual knowledge of facts.
40% WITHOUT A VOICE?
Bloom pushed the "Latino" question, asserting that the nearly 40% of the population of the city were under-represented and suggested that electing council members by districts - as is done in Newport Beach - might change that. In a quick "yes or no" poll posed by Bloom, only Weitzberg said he would support electing council members by district. McCarthy, Mensinger and Monahan said "no" and Genis and Stephens hedged their bets. As the discussion played out Mensinger, who has been heavily involved in Estancia High School sports, touted that school as a GREAT school - it may well be. He said "they" don't want to be considered "Latinos", "they" want to be considered Americans. All of that may be true, but it didn't answer the question - how to involve a huge segment of the population in the governance process. McCarthy pointed out that the Westside - where many Latinos reside - is presently represented by two council members. That would be Wendy Leece and Eric Bever. In the case of Bever, our part-time, part-time lame duck mayor, the thought of him "representing" the Latinos in his part of town makes me chuckle.
HERE'S AN IDEA...
Last night the only Estancia students in attendance were staffing the campaign tables for McCarthy, Mensinger and Monahan in the rear of the room. On the other hand, Newport Harbor High School government teacher Michele Lee had most of her class at the forum, taking notes and learning how government works. Her students have been frequent visitors to city council meetings over the past few years. Maybe that's where increased Latino involvement should begin...
You can read Mike Reicher's take on the event in his Daily Pilot article, HERE, and you can reade Elysse James coverage from the Orange County Register HERE.
CMTV PLAY SCHEDULE
You REALLY need to watch this event for yourselves to get the flavor of the evening. Dane Bora and Brad Long from CMTV filmed the proceedings for later replay. Here's that schedule for your viewing pleasure. You can also view it on streaming video at the City web site once it's uploaded later today. Venezia also arranged to have it live-streamed last night. Early reports from views indicate spotty coverage.
COSTA MESA UNITED FORUM UP NEXT
The next candidate forum is on Thursday, September 20th at the same venue. Our friends at Costa Mesa United will host an event that will include all the council candidates plus the three members of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District who retained their seats without being on the ballot because they were un-challenged. The issues to be discussed at that forum are related to athletics, academics and activities. More on that one later.