Support for Newport Councilman Peotter emerges in his effort to fight recall

Bob Rush describes himself as a moderate Democrat who doesn’t always align with Scott Peotter, a staunch and vocally conservative Newport Beach city councilman.

Nor does Rush agree with the recall proponents who are now seeking to unseat Peotter.

In heading a Peotter support committee called Save Free Speech in Newport, Rush said he’s pushing back against what he sees as a nationwide trend in efforts to squelch unpopular political opinions.

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In going against what Rush describes as the big-spending Newport Beach political establishment, Peotter has expressed some personal views that he’s now being “unfairly targeted for” as part of a “witch hunt,” Rush said in an interview Wednesday.

“I don’t agree with everything Scott says,” Rush said. But, he added, “to be persecuted for his opinions is ridiculous.”

Recall proponents, who formally began the process when they served Peotter with a notice of intent to recall during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, are critical of the first-term councilman on a wide range of issues.

According to a 10-point statement on the proponents’ website, his faults include his opposition to civic projects like a new fire station and library in Corona del Mar, his disclosure of confidential closed-session information in 2015, his use of an image of the city seal on an email newsletter that shares his personal perspectives, and insulting city and community leaders.

They also are taking aim at his support of the proposed 25-story Museum House condominium development that the council approved last year, and his vote in February dissenting in the council’s decision to rescind that approval after opponents of the project had gathered enough petition signatures to send it to a public vote.

The council’s choice in February was to either call an election or withdraw its earlier approval. Peotter said he voted (along with Councilman Will O’Neill) against rescinding the approval because the activists wanted a referendum.

Rush said in a statement circulated by Peotter’s 2014 campaign manager, Dave Ellis, that he became involved in city politics more than a decade ago to stop “the overconcentration of drug and alcohol rehab homes in West Newport.” He said he has fiscally conservative ideals but also some socially liberal stances, such as support of gay marriage.

The latter is one subject on which Peotter has been notably outspoken. In 2015, he used an image of the city seal in an email newsletter in which he criticized the U.S. Supreme Court’s affirmation of gay marriage. The City Council decided not to reprimand him, instead issuing a statement that Newport Beach supports diversity, equality and inclusiveness.

Peotter often describes himself as “politically incorrect.” Rush agrees and said that if the councilman kept his personal views to himself, “it’d probably make his life a lot easier.”

But, Rush said in his statement, “he always fights for us.”

The statement said Peotter is a leader elected on a platform of reduced spending, cutting regulations and “reining in our massive $500-million pension debt” and bond payments on the city’s new Civic Center.

The pro-recall group Committee to Recall Scott Peotter filed a statement of organization last week with the Newport Beach city clerk’s office. The filing allows the group to raise at least $2,000 to support its efforts.

Peotter, meanwhile, is seeking donations on his website to help him fight the recall.

A recall election could cost the city as much as $300,000, based on an estimate of the cost of a potential Museum House referendum.

Recall organizers expect their petition to be available May 15.

hillary.davis@latimes.com

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