Venezia: Candidates decline to meet the press

Last week we taped the eighth edition of the Feet to the Fire Forum at Orange Coast College with Costa Mesa City Council candidates Lee Ramos, Chris Bunyan, Rita Simpson, Al Melone, Tony Capitelli, Jay Humphrey and Mayor Jim Righeimer.

Joining me in questioning the candidates were Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis, City Editor Alicia Lopez and Voice of OC Editor-in-Chief Norberto Santana Jr.

As journalists, we prepare questions for each Feet to the Fire based on city issues that readers have shown interest in.

So at this forum we discussed homelessness, development density, the city's controversial 60th-anniversary party, rehab-home proliferation, the proposed charter and public-safety budgets.

The 90-minute conversation was fast-paced and not without controversy.

Lopez hit Righeimer hard. But as I told him, I thought he performed like a champ under pressure. Folks on his side of the aisle should be proud of his performance here.

Another star onstage was Bunyan. He had great energy, knew the issues and respectfully went toe to toe with Righeimer.

Capitelli also is a rising rocket in my book. He's bright, articulate, well-versed on subjects and solution-oriented.

For those looking to infuse fresh blood into this council, those two should be seriously considered.

Humphrey shined as well. He was poised, knows the issues and brings years of institutional knowledge to this race.

Ramos, Melone and Simpson were the weakest players onstage. They didn't exhibit the enthusiasm, solutions or charisma that Righeimer, Bunyan, Capitelli and Humphrey did.

But don't take my word for who shined and who didn't – decide for yourself. Watch Feet to the Fire 8 on public-access channel CMTV this week or online at http://www.feet2thefireforum.com.

Now it's on to the last Feet to the Fire this season, at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Oasis Senior Center in Newport Beach, featuring Newport council candidates – well, some, at least: Roy Englebrecht, Tim Brown, Mike Toerge and Mayor Rush Hill. Candidate Diane Dixon will lead the pledge opening the forum but won't be onstage since she's unopposed in her district race.

Through the grapevine this week, I heard that three of the candidates represented by political consultant Dave Ellis – Kevin Muldoon, Marshall Duffield and Scott Peotter – won't be there.

I've spoken to each several times over the past months. They knew the date and told me they were planning to attend and were looking forward to it.

This week, Muldoon and Duffield wouldn't return my calls.

I did speak with Peotter, who said he had "something else to do."

I wasn't buying it.

Then he said that after hearing how Lopez questioned Righeimer, he wasn't coming.

Well, she won't be there – Orange County Register columnist Jack Wu and FlashReport's Jon Fleischman will be joining the press panel for this round.

But whining about tough questions is no excuse not to face the press and the public if you're running for office.

Peotter stood firm, saying, "We're going to stick together as a team."

Apparently he hasn't figured out that when running for office, it's your butt on the line, not any other candidate's.

As a former Newport Beach Independent columnist known for voicing strong opinions, now Peotter's not his own man? I expected more of him.

Word spread quickly about these guys ditching Feet to the Fire.

"This is laughable. They should be ashamed of themselves that they're afraid to debate," Santana said. "Anyone who wants to be an elected official needs to be able to go to any forum and answer any question."

Toerge feels it's important for the public to see candidates "respond spontaneously to a variety of questions and issues."

Englebrecht called it a "slap in the face to residents" for any candidate not to attend, and Brown said residents lose an opportunity to be better informed.

But Wu put it best: "If they can't take the heat from a bunch of yahoos like us, what will they do when the public starts really questioning them?"

Oh yeah, there will be lots to discuss at the next Feet to the Fire on Wednesday!

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

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