Councilwoman Genis clarifies comment about ex-candidate Weitzberg

Costa Mesa City Councilwoman Sandy Genis offered additional clarification this week regarding remarks she made to a community group about a former council candidate’s electability.

The comment, that former candidate Harold Weitzberg’s last name did not sound like a “Costa Mesa name,” was first reported in Daily Pilot columnist Barbara Venezia’s Aug. 29 column, “CM4RG rep says Weitzberg was squeezed out of race.”

In an email to the Pilot on Thursday, Genis said that those words, reportedly stated during a Costa Mesans for Responsible Government, or CM4RG, meeting in July and then relayed to Venezia, “have been misconstrued to have a meaning I never intended.”

She said she “would not have used the term ‘Costa Mesa name’ in the context represented since, to me, a ‘Costa Mesa name’ is one belonging to any resident, business, school, organization or anyone else in Costa Mesa.”

Genis added, “I am sorry this has occurred and further sorry that this has distracted from the important issues facing our city and from the candidates who deserve our focus. It’s disappointing that someone’s hearsay recollection of a conversation that had occurred over a month before was presented as a verbatim quote in your paper.”

Venezia also wrote that Genis had been talking about “polling data and name recognition.”

However, two members of CM4RG, Charles Mooney and Mary Ann O’Connell, told the columnist that they took the alleged comment as a reference to Weitzberg’s Jewish heritage and were offended.

Genis said in the original column that she was discussing polling data.

“I was trying to explain [that Weitzberg] had an uphill battle,” Genis told Venezia. “I’m certainly not anti-Semitic.”

Genis got an earful from Weitzberg at Tuesday’s meeting, during which she did not respond to the criticism.

Weitzberg — who announced that he had dropped out of the council race on Aug. 8, the last day for candidates to file — accused Genis of “microaggression,” which he defined as a social-psychological condition that includes a person acting biased without even knowing it.

At the outset of his speech, Weitzberg said it was “not an attack,” but rather “an educational moment.”

He said the context of Genis’ comment “is not the point. The intent is not the point. The problem is, as well-intentioned as the statement may have been, the statement was hurtful and offensive.

“Why? Because it characterized my name as less Costa Mesan than others.”

He called it “prejudicial and insensitive,” saying Costa Mesa’s leaders should be inclusive of all members within the city’s diverse community.

“Let’s recognize that we are all Costa Mesans,” Weitzberg said.

After Weitzberg spoke, Councilman Gary Monahan said he was surprised that no one had offered an apology — up until that point — to the former candidate.

“It makes me wonder,” Monahan said. “I mean, whose name is a ‘Costa Mesa name?’ Is Monahan a Costa Mesa name? Am I going to have to explain to my six kids that it’s not?”

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, who said he doesn’t often agree with Weitzberg’s politics, praised him during Tuesday’s meeting, calling him a strong candidate and dedicated community member.

After reading Venezia’s column, Mensinger said he was “horrified.” Mensinger said if Mayor Jim Righeimer made a similar remark, the Pilot “would have covered that for the next six weeks.”

“Harold, tonight we’re all Weitzbergs, and I apologize to you profusely,” Mensinger said.

Venezia, in a follow-up column published Friday, wrote that she didn’t believe for a moment that Genis was anti-Semitic but chose her words poorly. She then criticized the councilwoman’s political opponents for seizing on a political opportunity.