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)

"I do my homework, and I just really … I vote my conscience, after I assess the information," she says. "I've always tried to be prepared for the meetings, and I take my duty very seriously to serve the citizens of Costa Mesa."

That's a trait the 40-year Westside resident's supporters and critics alike recognize.

"She places a high priority on public engagement and the public process," said former Costa Mesa City Manager Allan Roeder, who retired in March 2011. "She was never abrasive or anything of that nature. She is one of those who seeks input from a very broad base — not simply me as a city manager, but the business community — input from a variety of sources."

Onetime political ally Mansoor says, "Wendy has a good heart, but she's wrong on some of the current issues." He echoed Righeimer and Mensinger in saying that Leece's approach to pension reform is inadequate.

Hornbuckle, who has supported Costa Mesans for Responsible Government, a residents' group opposed to Righeimer's policies, says Leece has "done the diligent work" and has "hung in there and continued to persevere."

"I think it's valuable to have dissenting opinions, because people talk and work things out," she says. "The past couple years, Wendy has just been shut out, and her voice has been totally ignored."


Enter Sandy Genis

With Genis taking the most votes, though, Leece says things may change on the council. Genis has a "keen analytical mind" and valued connections in the community.

"What I can truly say is the people of Costa Mesa have spoken," Leece says. "They want their voices to be heard, and they haven't been heard for years."

Genis says she hopes that she and Leece will be able to make for more productive discussion, if not change the outcome of votes.

"This is the difference I've seen on the council," Genis said during an informal tour Wednesday of City Hall. "On one issue we'd be arguing vehemently, and the next issue we could agree on. Now, [the council majority] says this is our view and we always think it together.

"We hope to work collaboratively with the men on the council."

Regardless of the way things go in Council Chambers, come Genis' December inauguration, Leece says she hopes to leave a legacy of transparency on the council with her town hall meetings, and an improved approach to working with the homeless that includes a broad range of solutions.

"You know, I just really love the city," she says, sinking into her armchair, surrounded by embroidered throw pillows and photos of her family. "And it breaks my heart to see the division and the vitriol and just the nastiness. Because it didn't used to be that way. We were a nice, clean, safe city. You know, we just kind of hum along. Did we have some challenges? Yes. But we work together, we listen to residents. We don't just think we have all the answers."

Twitter: @jillcowan