Costa Mesa City Councilwoman Wendy Leece participates in a debate on Measure V during a live taping at KOCI 101.5 FM in late October. (KEVIN CHANG, Daily Pilot / October 30, 2012)

Foley and Leece served on the council together from 2006 to 2010 and remain friends. She says Leece saw past ideological differences to extend a helping hand to Foley in a time of need.

"We were politically apart from the time that I first met her," says Foley, who was active in the "Top 3" slate's campaigns. "But after Wendy got elected, and I was already on the council, one thing that changed — and this gets to the core of who Wendy Leece is — I was home for about five weeks [for medical issues] and Wendy was the most caring and concerned council member.... That just changed our relationship going forward because it became about people, not politics."

Leece, for her part, says she sees education as a tool for bettering the community.

"When kids have accountability, they don't become gang-bangers," she says. "Just because they're in Juvenile Hall doesn't mean we should forget them."

It's tough work, she says, "but I enjoy it, and I come back here, and there's more challenges.... My kids are all grown so I have that free time."

After-school programs, Leece says, are important. So is her work with the city's Homeless Task Force, whose work, she says, has been able to move forward with council cooperation.

"Those changes are being implemented as we speak," she says of the strategies recommended to the council.

Leece is a lifelong Republican but says that "community-based solutions, and not reckless political posturing to get headlines," are what's necessary at a local, nonpartisan level.

"What's happened in Costa Mesa is that an ideology or a mindset of how things should be in a city has come in to be imposed on Costa Mesa, and that's primarily a Republican mindset or ideology," she says. "Whereas I'm at a grass-roots level, working with Republicans [for whom] that imposition of an ideology in such a strict, quick manner is offensive."

That's not how Righeimer, who's led the council majority, sees it.

"I've known Wendy for over 20 years," he says, before referring to a recently approved transparency law. "I agree with her on some things.... We agreed on the COIN [Civic Openness in Negotiations] ordinance."

The council majority has also been criticized by some for not treating Leece with a professional level of respect in discussions, dismissing her contributions, but Righeimer simply sees political disagreement, not a lack of regard.

"You constantly hear we don't give the public respect or the council respect," he says. "I have never disrespected anyone on the council."

Righeimer said in a preelection interview that the perceived tension stems from disagreements over the direction of financial reforms.

"I guarantee you if a different council was in there, there would be no tension, there would be no problems," but the city's financial situation would go unaddressed, he says. "We're going to make sure we're being honest with the taxpayers' money."

Mensinger sees Leece as someone whose politics have changed — but not for the better.

"I supported Wendy in her early years. I even contributed to her campaigns," he writes in an email. "It would be no surprise to many that I am critical of some of her decisions that have contributed to the crisis."

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Roeder, Mansoor reflect

The widowed mother of five and grandmother of three says she just tries to do right by Costa Mesa — no matter what side of political divides that lands her on.