Mayor Christian W. Keena, who had been targeted by opponents wanting to oust him, said Monday that he will not seek reelection to the City Council in November.
The 42-year-old lawyer said he decided not to run again because he wants to return to his law practice full time when his term ends Dec. 31--and not because of any opposition he may have faced in a reelection bid.
"It's gotten to the point where it's become impossible to balance out the law practice with the work for the city," Keena said. "When you run your own business, as I do, you have to promote it, and my business is suffering."
Keena said he will make a formal announcement about his political future at the March 26 council meeting.
Keena was elected to the city's first council in 1987. He has served as mayor since last Jan. 1. Before his council election, Keena had held office on the community's advisory groups, and he was an outspoken proponent of Mission Viejo's incorporation.
Keena's decision not to seek reelection comes amid a stressful political year for the mayor and the rest of the city. Just two weeks ago, city voters overwhelmingly rejected an attempt to recall Councilman Robert A. Curtis. Keena backed the recall, which also was strongly supported by the Mission Viejo Co., the developer that planned and built the 75,000-member community.
Keena's support for the recall marked him for retribution by some Curtis supporters, who vowed to take vengeance on the mayor and two other council incumbents in the November election.
"There are three members of the council that do the bidding of the Mission Viejo Co.," Sharon Cody, a member of Curtis' steering committee, said on the night of the recall election. "If we keep the momentum together, then we are going to effectively move those three out of office."
After the Feb. 27 recall election, other residents began to attack Keena as well.
"The mayor is a weak and ineffective leader," said Ray Carolin, a 42-year-old marketing consultant who announced his City Council candidacy three days after the recall vote. "While the Mission Viejo Co. launched an attack on the democratic process and one of his fellow elected officials, he never took a stand and said, 'Enough is enough.' "
Although Carolin was more conciliatory Monday, he said he believes that Keena would have lost a reelection bid. Several other political observers echoed that sentiment, but the mayor denied that the possibility of a difficult reelection campaign was driving him from office.
"I've won my last three elections," Keena said. "Just getting this city incorporated was a dogfight, but we won. I think I would have won in November."
Curtis, who has often sparred with Keena, said it is "unfortunate" that the mayor's business made it impossible for him to continue on the council.
"I wish him well in managing those affairs, and I look forward to working with him in the months remaining," Curtis said.
In the 10 weeks since taking over the city reins in January, Keena has presided over a contentious and bitterly divided council, whose five members have frequently blasted each other in public, often delaying city business while jockeying for political advantage.
Keena struggled to control those council sessions, but his efforts have often gone in vain.
"It's been a very difficult time," said Councilman William S. Craycraft, Keena's predecessor as mayor. "I think Chris has done the best job that he could under the circumstances."
With more than nine months left to serve in his term, Keena vowed to pursue his agenda until he leaves office.
"I'm definitely not going to be a lame-duck mayor," he said.
Keena said he still intends to push for creation of a performing arts center and a business development commission, two legislative priorities that he set at the beginning of his mayoral term.