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

Righeimer owns LMC Management Group, which manages offices and retail space. And, given his political roles, he says doesn't do business in Costa Mesa.

"There's more than enough business to be done everywhere else," he says.

Righeimer's office overlooks the street. A stuffed pheasant from South Dakota hangs from the wall, but more noticeable are the many photographs of his family and him alongside GOP leaders: Mitt Romney, Dana Rohrabacher and former New York Gov. George Pataki.

Amid those is a drawing of him by Thomas Pitilli that ran alongside a 2011 article from the OC Weekly, "It's Gotten Costa Messy in Costa Mesa."

A framed copy of the Pilot hangs on the wall as well. It's a Dec. 2010 issue when he made the front page as the No. 1 entry of the "DP 103," the Pilot's annual listing of newsmakers and notables.

Righeimer may be political now, but for the Midwestern native growing up, it was more subtle.

"We were aware of it, but it wasn't like we had political discussions at the dinner table," he says. "It was nothing like that."

Righeimer's parents were Chicago-area Democrats and were involved in some party activities. Righeimer says Midwestern Democrats are similar to Orange County Republicans: They have a strong work ethic, concern for family and community issues.

Righeimer's dad, for whom he's named, was a teacher who coached football. After retiring, he became a deputy sheriff and ran a "scared straight" program. His mother was a teacher who later became a real estate broker.

Righeimer keeps the memory of them close: In addition to his wedding ring, he wears a signet ring they got for him. "Love Mom and Dad" is engraved on the inside.

They were an Irish-Catholic family in Lincolnshire, Ill., a suburban village north of Chicago with half-acre lots and a few thousand residents. Five of them were the children of the Righeimer family. "Little Jim" was the second oldest.

Righeimer gives a lot of credit to Loyola Academy, a Jesuit prep high school in Wilmette, not far from his hometown. It was an all-boys campus then.

"I got educated by the Jesuit priests, and that's really where my education came from," he says. "That affects me more today than any other education I got."

He says the campuswide philosophy of service to others has stayed with him. "What are you doing for other people?" he remembers them saying.

After high school, Righeimer attended USC as a film student. He likes to joke that he came to California, heralded as a free land of opportunity when compared with the Midwest, with a "duffel bag and a box."

But because he was paying his own way, he says, he couldn't afford to continue and had to leave SC after two years. Several years later, he earned a bachelor's from Pepperdine University.

During his time at SC, though, he got his real estate license, and after dropping out he continued on in the business world. It was there that he learned how cities work, how planning commission and council decisions could affect projects.

"At a young age, I knew pretty quickly who was who," he says.

"It's important to you how that all works out," he added. "I was 19 years old when I got in the business. [Those decisions] of whether or not you're going to close a transaction and get your $1,200 commission check mattered on how a vote happened at a city council meeting somewhere."