Mensinger, who stands about 6 feet 4 inches tall, denied making intentional physical contact with Flores, but didn't deny exchanging words. The conservative Mensinger and the liberal Flores are equally committed to their divergent political views.

Like Mensinger, Costa Mesa blogger Geoff West is a Republican, but he doesn't care for Mensinger's business-like approach to municipal government.

"Let me preface this by saying [Mensinger's] a take-charge guy," West said, referring in part to Mensinger's previous career in the development and commercial property management. "But he hasn't been burdened by the need to follow rules. In a past life, he didn't need to. In government, there's rules."

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Willingness to change

Mensinger stressed that he listens well and is open to being convinced by opposing arguments. An example of a time he changed his mind?

Outsourcing, actually.

"I thought outsourcing [of city services] was the answer to everything," he said. "It's not. Outsourcing the wrong way can be worse than a government system, or just as bad as an inefficient government system."

Mensinger has also said in the past that he's willing to work with critics, inviting them to coffee and one-on-one meetings during which he can build relationships that cannot be forged during a council meeting.

West allowed that things may be different, now that the council majority has signaled a desire for a post-election fresh start.

"We'll see if there's a change," he said. "I'm willing to give him a chance."

Councilwoman Wendy Leece, who often found herself on the losing end of 4-1 votes in which Mensinger enjoyed being part of the majority, wants to let bygones be bygones.

"I hope we can begin a new chapter now that the election is over, and reconcile our differences, forget the past and work together as one community moving forward together," she wrote in an email.

Mensinger said his political disagreements are rooted in deeply held beliefs. That "passion," as he called it (think Steve Jobs — the only "reason for me to become a Democrat," he joked) can be intimidating to some, but it also means a focus on action and decisiveness.

Mensinger's supporters see a strong leader who is willing to listen to all sides, but who stands his ground in a political environment every bit as tough as the gridiron.

"He values input, but he's also nobody's fool," Righeimer said. "He won't tell you you're wrong, he will drill down on [an issue]. There's still a mission, if something has to get done and handled. [He's not going to say], 'It's too contentious, we're not going to get into this issue.'"

Righeimer credited Mensinger with figuring out "a legal, proper way" to construct Costa Mesa's Civic Openness in Negotiations (or COIN) Ordinance to allow further public scrutiny of labor negotiations.

"He keeps on pushing through," Righeimer said.

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Outsourcing proposal