Wu: My impressions of council candidates Weitzberg, Stephens

Last week, I wrote about my initial observations in meeting the Costa Mesa City Council candidates: Planning Commissioner Colin McCarthy and appointed incumbent Steve Mensinger.

This time, let's take a look at a couple of their competitors: first-time council candidates Harold Weitzberg and John Stephens.

That adrenaline of running for City Council is what makes me impressed to hear their reasons and see their passion, and Weitzberg was no different. Reminding me a bit of Richard Dreyfuss, I couldn't help but enjoy discussing our dynamic, yet vastly different, views on politics, business and life.

He is a hardcore liberal Democrat from New York. I'm a hardcore Orange County conservative Republican.

But whenever we came up to an issue where we vastly differed, Weitzberg would, very adeptly and smoothly, move onto another subject. His desire and passion could not be disputed.

However, as I mentioned last week, the difference between a candidate and an incumbent could not be ignored, as he did not know the answers to a few of my questions.

For instance, he knew that this City Council majority had reduced the numbers in the Costa Mesa Police Department, but could not tell me if those numbers were in the ranks of patrol officers or command staff. With the charter opposition, Harold was great with the broad strokes, but he told me that the charter could not be changed for 10 years and two meetings; Stephens later corrected that by telling me that it could within 10 years, but only with a majority vote of the electorate, like in Newport Beach.

Weitzberg was impressive and passionate, as council candidates usually are, but lacked the specific knowledge previous council members possess.

Stephens, a lawyer, was impressive as well and appeared to be more "camera-ready" for the Costa Mesa City Council than Weitzberg. Scheduling with him was much more difficult than with the other three I met because of his busy work schedule. Thus, one of the first things I asked him was how he was going to balance his thriving law firm, his family life, and the 30 to 40 hours a week being on the Costa Mesa dais would present.

It's the same question I asked of candidate Colin McCarthy, currently a planning commissioner, and the same thing I asked former Newport Beach council candidate Ed Reno two years ago.

The demands of the City Council would certainly take away from their already limited time they are spending with their families, and this issue is particularly sensitive to me as a divorced father with joint custody. As my children are still very young, there is nothing that would take me away from them when I have them, so I have to look at people in a relatively similar situation and ask them, "How will you cope spending even less time with your kids?"

But family and work aside, Stephens' grasp on Costa Mesa politics was strong, and when I presented him the same "less Costa Mesa police" question I asked Weitzberg, he wasn't 100% sure on the command staff-patrol officer difference, but was concerned that Costa Mesa schools had lost their police presence so that the campus safety officers could go onto patrol.

Regarding the charter, our discussion revolved on why Costa Mesa being a charter city would be so bad considering that Irvine, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach are also charter cities, and that life seems to go on just fine in those places.

Stephens later said that the problem was this council's majority, and that he hadn't looked at the other city's charters, so he couldn't really know what would be different, if anything at all. I've lived in Irvine, Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach and in Newport Beach, and honestly, those cities being charter or general law cities made no difference to me whatsoever in my decisions to live there.

In fact, the only city really griping about its financial difficulties is the only noncharter one.

At the end of the day, I'm glad that I had the honor to meet these four folks who are willing to sacrifice family and work for king and country. To varying degrees, I know all four would be great on the Costa Mesa City Council.

However, the reality of politics and running for office means money will play the biggest role of all to reach the probably 90% of Costa Mesa's voters who have no idea who Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, Councilman Gary Monahan or even Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) are, or political newcomers Stephens, McCarthy and Weitzberg, for that matter.

In this election, what will bring voters out will be President Obama vs. Mitt Romney, and by the time they get all the way down to the Costa Mesa City Council, familiarity will rule.

And, as they typically do, so will incumbency. The real race should boil down to former Mayor Sandy Genis vs. McCarthy vs. Stephens vs. Weitzberg for that third seat.

And because Genis has already been there, done that, and has the name I.D. for it, if I were a betting man, the election is hers to lose.

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 jack@wubell.com.

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