Tony Petros waited a long time to make his break into politics.
The 52-year-old businessman and incoming Newport Beach District 2 City Councilman said his wife, Kristen Caspers Petros, didn't want him to take the plunge — so he didn't.
"Her father was a local politician," Petros said, perched on a stool at a bustling Kean Coffee on 17th Street Monday afternoon. "He was the chair of the [Orange County] Board of Supervisors — Ron Caspers — and because of that, she didn't want me in politics. I honored my wife's wish, and I didn't get involved in politics, which [was something] I actually wanted for a long, long time."
But now, with one daughter off at college and the second applying to schools, the Huntington Beach native and longtime Newport-Mesa area resident has his chance.
"It's perfect, now that it's just me and Kristen," he said. "She finally said, 'It's OK; now it's time.'"
While Petros, who is unopposed in Tuesday's election to replace termed-out Councilman Steve Rosansky, has never held elected public office, he's dipped a toe or two into the local political pool.
When he lived in Costa Mesa years ago, he served on the Girl Scouts of Orange County board, police and redevelopment committees, and as the Chamber of Commerce chairman.
In Newport, he counts his work as president of the Environmental Nature Center, where he secured $1.2 million in grant funding for a new LEED Platinum-certified facility, as a particular accomplishment, along with progress in raising awareness for road safety as a member of the city's Bicycle Safety Committee. He's also been a member of the West Newport Neighborhood Revitalization Committee and the West Newport Beach Assn.
In his professional life, including as a partner in the Irvine-based firm, LSA Associates, Petros said he's worked with various municipalities throughout the state on transportation planning projects.
In other words, Petros is no stranger to civic issues, he said, but,
"Now these issues are particular to Newport Beach, so I'm having to learn a great deal. But the function and structure of local government, I've had a lot of experience with and understand."
That experience, Councilman Rush Hill said, will fill a unique niche on the council.
"It seems like everyone has a particular expertise," he said. "With Newport's constant focus in working to move traffic through town as well as we can, Tony's going to be a go-to person on the council. He understands the impact planning can have on a city."
Added Rosansky: "He's spent a lot of time working with governmental agencies over the years — the county, [the Orange County Transportation Authority]."
As the District 2 representative, Petros will play a key role in guiding the construction of two parks, Marina Park and Sunset Ridge Park, and the development of Banning Ranch, Rosansky said.
Councilwoman Leslie Daigle said that because Hoag Hospital is in District 2, "maintaining a strong relationship" with the hospital, one of the city's biggest employers, is important. She, too, cited Petros's extensive experience working with governmental agencies as an asset.
"He has good comprehension of how governments process things," she said.
So – beyond transportation infrastructure – what does Petros see as the top issue facing the city?
Public employee pensions, of course.
"Here's the dynamic," Petros said. "We are clearly at a point of unsustainability in terms of the compensation that's afforded to a lot of our employees. However, the people of Newport Beach enjoy and expect platinum-level service."