Jim Righeimer is the new mayor of Costa Mesa. (SCOTT SMELTZER, Daily Pilot / December 13, 2012)

Fourth in a series of profiles about those in the trenches of Costa Mesa's political battles.


Each Sunday the new mayor of Costa Mesa prays to God to help him forgive others, to help him not hold a grudge, to give him guidance for the week before and the weeks ahead.

Jim Righeimer says that ritual is when he gets a chance to bring it all together. It's a time to think about what to work on, what might've gone badly that week and perhaps what he must do in the coming days. He describes it as making "an inventory count" in his mind.

Prayer, he says, is what helps him deal with the duties of an elected official that, while winning him some support for his causes, also brings the inevitable backlash of political and personal disagreement, even vitriol, with it.

When people ask him how he deals with berating public comments during City Council meetings — which sometimes go for two hours — he answers: "I go to church on Sunday. After communion, I just pray."

May God "give me wisdom," he says, "help me make the right decisions, help me do what's right, as painful as the cause may be."

Ever since Righeimer's election to City Hall in 2010, the 54-year-old Mesa Verde resident has been the central figure in Costa Mesa's political landscape. Such status, as his prayer suggests, can be painful.

The road to reform that he and his colleagues seek for the City of the Arts has been that way. They want to control city spending. Address employee pension liabilities. Reinvest in capital improvement projects. Enact a city charter to make such things happen.

These are worthy causes, Righeimer supporters say.

But what of his dissenters? Among them are grass-root types, community activists and organized labor leaders.

They disagree with his blunt governing style, disapprove of his hard-line tactics and question his decision to sound the fiscal alarm that led to proposed cuts in the first place. Some just plain don't like him.

They make such views known each Tuesday night the five council members meet, and in seemingly endless online comment streams and letters to the editor.

But there's a majority, the new mayor and his supporters say, who quietly support the policy changes. They say conservative members of the community constantly reassure them that they are doing the right thing to repair the city.

"It's not a God thing, and it's not a religious thing, but it's definitely how I was raised," Righeimer says. "Once you know, once this has been brought to you and you're here to fix it, your job isn't to just walk away and let it somehow fix itself, especially when you've been around and you realize no one else is gonna fix it.

"Maybe that's why you're here to do this. You need to do it, and you need to take responsibility for doing it."


No politics at dinner

The faint hum of passing traffic permeates Righeimer's office off MacArthur Boulevard in Newport Beach. His name is one of a few on the door to the second-story office suite.

He shares the space with Scott Baugh, chairman of the Republican Party of Orange County and a former state assemblyman for the 67th District. Busts of Ronald Reagan are on either side of the main room that's also complete with a long conference table and couches.