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

When Dodero left the Pilot, Righeimer was there to help him start his own business.

"I was trying to find work, and Jim was one of the few people out there who always did his best to help me out," he says.

Councilman Steve Mensinger, who's known Righeimer for 25 years, worked alongside Righeimer on the city's Planning Commission, on which Righeimer served for four years before being elected to the council.

"I think first and foremost, he's a great husband and father, and he's probably one of the smartest, instinctive, political people I've ever been around," Mensinger says.

He's the kind of guy who has "read it and understands it five minutes before everyone else," Mensinger added. "When I think of Jim, I think of a guy who is unflappable. He's just solid."

Adds Baugh: "He's got an amazing capacity for compassion and concern for other people, which isn't always the public image the Daily Pilot writes about ... but on a personal level, he cares deeply about people."

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'Animosity and conflict'

Righeimer's political opponents, however, might claim otherwise. They contend that, especially in the past general election, he was a man who didn't listen to those who may disagree, a person prone to outrages fit for the city's heated campaign season.

One frequent critic, Perry Valantine, says he shouldn't have to spend so many of his Tuesday nights at 77 Fair Drive. The Costa Mesa resident and retired city government employee of more than 30 years has already been to far more than his fair share of council and planning meetings. He's now a regular fixture in the Council Chambers, taking his three minutes of public comment time to speak his mind on the issues.

"I'd like to think that as a citizen, I could enjoy my Tuesday nights and do what I'd rather be doing ... but when they come in here and do things for the wrong reasons or in the wrong ways, and create the kind of animosity and conflict that they did ... you just can't sit home and let that go on.

"I just kind of felt that I had to get involved and say, 'Hey, we the citizens don't agree with what you're doing here and the way you're doing it.'"

Valantine was referring to a few of the council majority's decisions since Righeimer was elected.

In March 2011, there was an attempt to lay off nearly half the city's staff, outsource some of the work and reinvest in capital improvements.

Proponents said the widespread austerity move would save Costa Mesa from financial ruin; some community activists opposed it, and the Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. filed a lawsuit in response.

The lawsuit led to a temporary injunction against Costa Mesa outsourcing to the private sector. Beyond that, it remains in the legal system. The remaining layoffs, however, have since been rescinded.

There was a 29-year-old city employee who committed suicide at City Hall after receiving his pink slip. However, he had been handling other personal issues, and it was never fully clear why he took his own life.

Then there was a man who called Costa Mesa police and claimed Righeimer was driving drunk. In addition to Righeimer passing a field sobriety test, the saga twisted after the man was identified as Chris Lanzillo, a private investigator and ex-cop hired to track Councilman Gary Monahan and Mensinger.

Now, there is a recall petition, led by math teacher and two-time council candidate, Chris McEvoy, that's circulating to unseat Righeimer. All parties admit it will be an uphill battle to get more than 9,000 signatures from resident voters to determine whether there will be a recall question on the ballot.

Many with Costa Mesans for Responsible Government, a grass-roots group of residents that includes Valantine, feel the same way he does.