So this past Monday was the third and final Feet to the Fire Forum for this election cycle, and I must say that I've learned tremendous amounts about the Costa Mesa-Newport Beach electorate, the importance about doing well at such forums, and a lot about myself.
This was also the third forum that I was honored to be a panelist for and the third one where I had the honor to be summarily insulted. As forum co-founder, my mentor and friend, Barbara Venezia, told me, out of all the emails that she receives about the forum, I have the proud distinction of being the most hated of all the panelists.
I'm No. 1! Yeah!
So let's take a look at the three for the year.
On April 5, 10 days before tax day Armageddon for me, Orange County Register columnist Tom Johnson, Voice of OC Editor Norberto Santana, the Newport Beach Independent Editor Roger Bloom, and myself joined the Feet to the Fire co-founders John Canalis, Daily Pilot editor, and Venezia, a Register columnist, to grill the 74th Assembly candidates, Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa), Newport Beach City Councilwoman Leslie Daigle and Newport Beach resident Robert Rush.
Coming in, the drama surrounding the primary was great as Mansoor was running in a newly redrawn district, which included only 20% of his previous district, but it also included his home city of Costa Mesa. This was also the first election in more than a decade that the top two vote getters in the primary would move onto the general election in the fall, regardless of party affiliation. Seeing an opportunity, moderate Republican Daigle jumped in to challenge the more conservative Republican Mansoor, and, for months, it seemed as though Daigle would be the favorite because of her cross-over appeal to middle-of-the-road voters. Enter Democrat Rush to foil those plans.
So this was the first opportunity to see all three together in a room. By most accounts, Rush impressed the 300 attendees and, with such a strong showing, jump-started his campaign to become a serious candidate. Mansoor was informative, performing as expected. The real surprise was Daigle's lukewarm performance.
As we all know, Mansoor and Rush were the top vote-getters and moved onto the general election.
The second Feet to the Fire Forum on Sept. 5 was a Costa Mesa affair as City Council incumbent Gary Monahan, appointed incumbent Steve Mensinger, Planning Commissioner Colin McCarthy, former Councilwoman Sandy Genis, attorney John Stephens and Harold Weitzberg faced off. This time, Register columnist Frank Mickadeit was there instead of Johnson, and Santana, who was hurt in an amateur boxing match, watched from home.
This time, no candidates yelled at each other or at the panelists, with Stephens, Genis and Mensinger as the real standouts of the evening. My personal highlight was getting most of the 400 attendees in the audience to uniformly boo me when I, during a segment on the proposed city charter, questioned Stephens whether he thought that Costa Mesa voters were like the city of Bell's voters (obviously, they are not).
However, while the April 5 forum introduced Rush and Daigle to a primarily Costa Mesa crowd, it was pretty obvious that the Sept. 5 audience was stacked in the favor of the council challengers, Stephens, Weitzberg and Genis.
So on Oct. 15, we had our last forum of the year, with Santana healthy enough to join us on the panel, this time to discuss Measure V, the Costa Mesa charter proposal, and inviting charter "creator," Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and former Councilwoman and current school board member Katrina Foley, to debate the pros and cons.
The discussions were civil, as were the questions from the panelists, and just like the previous Feet to the Fire forum, I don't think there were any people in the 400-plus attendees who were undecided on the charter coming in, nor do I think any of the responses from either Foley or Righeimer were enough to change anyone's minds.
My personal highlight came after having a pleasant conversation with a no-on-V volunteer, and walking away to hear her saying to a council candidate's wife, "He's not that creepy," then only to hear the wife say, "Oh yes, he is."
So thank you to Venezia and Canalis for creating and organizing these three successful events, and thank you to the hundreds of people who attended. Stay tuned for many more for the next election cycle.
JACK WU is an accountant who lives in Newport Beach and practices in Costa Mesa. He is a longtime Republican Party loyalist and a volunteer campaign treasurer for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa). His column runs Sundays on the Daily Pilot Forum page. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.