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

The organization's president, Robin Leffler, says she doesn't know what to think of Righeimer these days, but "I'm really glad that the layoffs have been rescinded, and for some of the things he's said publicly and in council meetings that indicate a willingness to collaborate."

Righeimer and his council colleagues, excluding Councilwoman Wendy Leece, through their votes, have cost the city funds they're supposedly trying to save, dissenters say.

"We think that the whole thing about the lawsuit could've been avoided," Leffler says.

"It wasn't so much what they were doing, as it was how they were doing it," Valantine says.

Valantine says he hasn't had a lot of personal interaction with Righeimer, though of the three times he has spoken with the councilman, he says two involved yelling.

"His attitude and approach to things were very offensive to me," Valantine says. "That makes me not want to sit down and have a one-to-one conversation with him."

Leece has long known Righeimer. As a fellow conservative, he donated to her various campaigns over the years. Within the past two years, however, she's found herself on the lonely side of 4-1 council votes. Earlier this month, she hoped her colleagues would appoint her mayor or mayor pro tem, but the votes weren't there.

And while she's disagreed with the council majority's actions and echoes CM4RG beliefs that the employees' lawsuit has cost the city too much money, she says Righeimer's style shows a few similarities to her own years ago. Back then, she says, she might have been too strident in her approach, and it cost her a school board election.

Besides, there's no rush, Leece contends; it's not a "sky is falling" scenario in town.

"We need to listen to residents," she adds. "We need to do all things decently and in order."

She wrote in an email that she would "encourage the mayor to please put aside his strict agenda and any political aspirations he may have and truly listen to the heartbeat of Costa Mesa. It doesn't help when we read about our city in the headlines or hear about it on the radio all the time. We need to keep our 'family' problems in house.

"I hope Jim enjoys the honor of being the mayor and unites the community toward common goals. He has a great opportunity here to bring diverse opinions together."

Righeimer's friends, however, testify to his calmness in difficult situations. Righeimer himself admits he not may be of "Great Communicator" status like Reagan, but that he's very reasonable. Still, he says he doesn't suffer "fools" lightly.

"And when people tell me things that are just absolutely off and wrong, I won't agree with them just to be politically expedient," he says, adding, "There isn't a person in my business life of 30-plus years of ups and downs, strenuous times, hard issues that I can't meet in a room today. There's just not.

"It may be uncomfortable, but I've always been a person who works it out to figure the best that we can. And sometimes the best doesn't make people happy."

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Righeimer vs. labor

Righeimer's battles with unions have gone on for years.

In 2010, when he was a planning commissioner and running for council a second time, the Costa Mesa Police Assn. bought Righeimer.com and used the website to publicize Righeimer's past troubles, particularly some liens during the 1990s and lawsuits. Association organizers also advertised the website on a billboard trailer, which they drove around town throughout the campaign.

"I'm not going to respond on the issues they are bringing up," Righeimer told the Pilot at the time. "It has nothing to do with pay, benefits and pension. This group does not want to talk about any of these issues."