It's a testy night for the Huntington Beach City Council. Two members with a history of bad blood have started to raise their voices over an agenda item. As the argument escalates, the woman who already exceeded the time limit during public comments returns to the microphone and adds her voice to the fray.
Enter Alex Polsky to soothe the situation. Or so he hopes, if he's elected to the council in November.
Polsky, a lawyer who specializes in mediation and alternative dispute resolution, has not set out to run a flashy campaign. He does most of his outreach by knocking on doors and visiting businesses. He's made a point of not posting signs around town, which he considers visual blight.
For that matter, during a 10-day stretch in mid-October, Polsky won't campaign at all — he'll be in Ecuador leading a mediation seminar for law professionals. The candidate, who is running for the first time this year, plans to let his actions speak louder than slogans or endorsements.
"I am, by profession, a peacemaker," Polsky said Friday at his home near the ocean.
Or, to quote Polsky's biography on http://www.jamsadr.com, a website that features alternative dispute resolution experts: "He has presided over the resolution of more than 10,000 disputes and is well known for his ability to calm highly emotional parties and to simplify complex disputes."
So what complex disputes — or highly emotional ones — might Polsky encounter on the dais?
One could be Huntington Beach's recent decision to legalize safe-and-sane fireworks on the Fourth of July, a move that Polsky opposed for safety reasons. Another could be the development of the Beach and Edinger Corridor, which he considers a boon to the city.
On what may be the election's most burning issue, Polsky takes something of a middle ground: He believes in pension reform but opposes Measure Z, which would eliminate a property tax that helps fund employee pensions, because he wants to avoid reducing revenue to the city. He also hopes to prevent further cuts to public safety personnel and to find ways to fund Huntington Beach's new senior center, which has been approved by voters but languished without financial support.
In short, Polsky has strong opinions on many issues. But even more than his own views, he trumpets his ability to reconcile those of others — a skill he's honed through teaching law at USC, training Orange County lawyers in mediation and visiting China, Cuba, Scotland and elsewhere to lead seminars.
Even Los Angeles schools, he said, have invited him to teach conflict resolution to students and faculty members.
"What I bring to the table, among other things, is an ability to bring together divergent issues," Polsky said.
In a campaign with many high-profile candidates — incumbent Devin Dwyer, former Mayors Jill Hardy and Dave Sullivan and Planning Commissioners Erik Peterson, Barbara Delgleize and Tim Ryan — Polsky is among the more low-key challengers. His most recent campaign finance statement, covering the period from July 1 through Sept. 30, declared $9,981, but that amount came entirely through self-loans.
Still, Polsky has at least one vote assured on Nov. 6: his neighbor and longtime friend, Barry Allswang, who said a dispute-resolution background would serve the dais well.
"It seems to me that a mediator is someone we need today in politics," Allswang said. "I find him very level-headed, clear-minded, and I think he would be an asset to any council board that he was on."