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New Newport Councilwoman Dixon listens to residents' needs

For newly elected Newport Beach Mayor Pro Tem Diane Dixon, an interest in politics is a family affair.

With two journalists for parents, a sister who just finished a stint on the Costa Mesa City Council and an upbringing that centered on local government in her hometown, Dixon says her foray into politics was inevitable.

Of course, it didn't happen like she anticipated.

After graduating from USC with a degree in political science, Dixon thought she would break into the political scene sooner rather than later. But she spent 30 years managing global corporate communications for a Fortune 500 company in Southern California.

"I didn't run at 30 like I thought I would," she said.

Instead, her sister, Wendy Leece, became the politician, serving on the board of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District and most recently as a Costa Mesa councilwoman.

But at age 62 and with an election for a Newport Beach City Council seat in her district approaching, Dixon decided it was finally her time.

"It all lined up to say this is what I'm supposed to be doing now," she said. "I'm not about climbing any more mountaintops. Now it's about helping the community thrive."

Dixon retired from her long career in the private sector and moved from Pasadena to Newport Beach with her husband, Pat, about four years ago.

Dixon, her husband — an avid sailor — and their daughter spent a lot of time in Orange County on vacation and visiting Leece, so when the time came to decide where to retire, Newport Beach was an obvious choice, she said.

In November, Dixon was elected to the City Council, taking over the District 1 seat, which represents the Balboa Peninsula and Lido Isle.

Dixon, Marshall "Duffy" Duffield, Kevin Muldoon and Scott Peotter formed "Team Newport" during the campaign and swept the four available seats on the council.

The slate emphasized fiscal conservatism and was critical of perceived overspending by the previous council.

Immediately following the swearing-in ceremony Dec. 9, the rest of the council selected Dixon as mayor pro tem, a position she will hold for a full calendar year. If tradition stands, Dixon could become mayor in 2016.

"When she told me she was going to run, I was very encouraging," Leece said. "I thought it was a great idea that she would want to serve her community."

Though she's new to the political scene in Newport Beach, Dixon's interest in local governments was stoked by her parents' career in newspapers.

When she was in elementary school, her parents moved her and her sister to Arizona, where they had bought a small community paper.

Dixon remembers being impressed by the local politicians her parents wrote about who had dedicated their time to the community.

"It impressed me that people could run for office and actually make positive changes," she said.

Throughout her adolescence and into her adult years, Dixon became a self-described "news junkie," reading at least five newspapers each morning.

She plans to bring pearls of wisdom from her parents' reporting careers into her political life.

"I learned at a young age to always check the facts and look at all sides of an issue before forming an opinion," she said. "People just want to be listened to and to know that their voice matters."

She said her time as a chief communications officer helped her develop the listening skills necessary to be an effective councilwoman.

She put that skill to work early in her campaign, walking around the city, meeting residents and listening to their concerns.

"Residents from Newport Coast to Peninsula Point have many things in common, but the protection of their property values and their quality of life is what I heard about the most," she said.

On a recent morning while sitting in the council chamber, Dixon pulled out her list of ongoing projects in her district and residents' concerns. She has the two-page index with her constantly, keeping her on track for what needs to be done.

Her district includes the dynamic Balboa Peninsula, which many cherish as the city's only remaining downtown area. But with much activity come significant challenges, she said.

Public safety and nuisance problems on the peninsula, the development of Hotel Lido and the revitalization of Balboa Village are at the top of her to-do list.

"It's a symphony of issues that we're dealing with," she said.

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