Los Angeles Times

Venezia: Feet to the Fire Forum adds guests, venues

April is around the corner, and so is Feet to the Fire Forum season.

This year, members of the Feet to the Fire team — Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis, Voice of OC Editor Norberto Santana Jr. and Orange County Register columnist Jack Wu — have their work cut out for them.

The first forum takes place April 17 and will include candidates for the 74th Assembly District seat.

On April 28, candidates for the 2nd District supervisorial race will grace our stage.

Both April forums will take place at the Costa Mesa Community Center, 1845 Park Ave., Costa Mesa.

It's been the home to all our forums since we started them in 2010. But this year we're branching out a bit.

The third forum, with candidates running for Costa Mesa City Council, will be held Sept. 18 at Orange Coast College's Robert B. Moore Theatre.

Canalis and I were thrilled when school officials contacted us to offer the main theater on campus for the first time.

Now OCC students will have the opportunity to see the political process live and in person in the 900-seat theater, as will the usual crop of residents.

Another first for Feet to the Fire happens Oct. 1, as we take the show to the stage of the OASIS Senior Center and talk with candidates running for council seats in Newport Beach.

Also new this year is our partnership with KOCI radio FM 101.5. The station is planning to broadcast live from each forum.

Of course we'll also welcome back our television partners, CMTV and NBTV, which will tape the shows for later broadcast.

I can't believe it's been four years since Canalis approached me with the unique idea of putting together media journalists for a political talk show format on stage.

After all, who knows candidates running for office better than the people who write about them?

In my years as a columnist, I've covered my share of traditional political forums.

The redundancy bored me to tears as candidates sat at a table, passed the microphone and all answered the same questions over and over.

I'd look at the faces in the audience; they were as glazed over as mine.

After you've been to a few of these, you start to practice the art of sleeping with your eyes open.

So if we were going to be part of creating a new format, it had to be exciting, interesting, fast-moving and challenging enough to make candidates think on their feet.

By all accounts we've accomplished that with Feet to the Fire.

Each season the forums get more interesting, and you never know what will come out of someone's mouth.

Audiences have embraced the concept as well. With an average of 300 to 400 in attendance, the forums have become popular.

They also give candidates an opportunity to shine and have on occasion been political game changers.

We've seen some long shots turn the tide and win races, and favorites lose ground with poor performances.

To keep the 2014 shows fresh, we're inviting several guest journalists to jump on board with us.

On April 17, Tom Johnson, a former Daily Pilot publisher and current Orange County Register columnist and KOCI radio show host, will join Canalis, Santana and Wu interviewing Assembly candidates.

He's been with us before, and we're happy to have him back.

On April 28, Gustavo Arellano, editor of the OC Weekly, will be our special guest on stage.

This will be Arellano's first appearance with us, and we're excited to have him in the mix.

And who knows, maybe we can convince former Feet to the Fire member Frank Mickadeit — who became a lawyer this year and left journalism — to make a special appearance.

Producing these forum shows isn't as easy as it looks. There are so many moving parts that at times I feel like I'm herding cats.

But kidding aside, a lot of the behind-the-scenes credit this year goes to Roger Bloom, a former editor of the Orange County Register's Current.

Bloom had the daunting task of contacting all the candidates for each forum and coordinating dates.

Trying to get so many people's schedules to align was challenging. All I can say is I'm grateful Bloom is a patient man.

I'd also like to take the opportunity to thank management at the Daily Pilot, Register and Voice of OC for supporting our efforts as well as the cities of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach, Orange Coast College and the OASIS Senior Center.

We've put together a fiery lineup of candidates and journalists this season you won't want to miss.

For more information on Feet to the Fire, visit feet2thefireforum.com.

Doors to all forums open at 6:30 p.m. Forums take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. All are welcome.

BARBARA VENEZIA, whose column appears Fridays, lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

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