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A more conservative turn for Newport Beach City Council

Newport Beach Mayor Rush Hill speaks at the 33rd annual Mayor's Dinner in February.
(David Kawashima / Daily Pilot)

When Newport Beach Mayor Rush Hill reflects on his last four years on the City Council, he remembers a group of people who worked cohesively to develop a financial master plan that built upon the coastal city’s exceptional quality of life.

When his first term ended this year, he decided to run for reelection so he could see through initiatives like the development of the Lido House Hotel, a boutique hotel that is set to be built at the former City Hall site, as well as other improvements to aging city infrastructure.

The same plan that led Hill to seek reelection faced scrutiny from a slate of candidates known as “Team Newport” in the months leading up to this week’s election. The reform-minded slate emphasized fiscal conservatism and slammed the perceived overspending by City Council members.

On Election Day, voters tossed out Hill from the District 3 council seat and replaced him with Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, who is most widely known as the founder of the Duffy electric boat company.

Kevin Muldoon (District 4), Diane Dixon (District 1) and Scott Peotter (District 6) also won spots on the seven-member council, giving Team Newport a sweep of the four available seats, according to uncertified campaign results.

“They were spending like drunken sailors,” Peotter said about the council. “Just because Newport Beach is a wealthy city doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be wise about how we’re spending our money.”

However, Hill and other council members contend that the city made strategic moves that placed it in a solid financial situation.

“They did an excellent job of running a negative campaign they sold based on misinformation,” Hill said of Team Newport.

Hill points to improvements to community areas like the civic center library — the second most visited spot in the city — and public parks that cost money but aligned with community needs.

Hill walked Newport Beach neighborhoods every weekend for three months during campaign season, catching up with voters.

He recalled several of them wondering why he was campaigning. He would surely be elected, they said.

“Those people just didn’t go out and vote,” he said.

He believes the low voter turnout probably contributed to his loss. The mayor earned just 33.3% of the 18,414 votes cast. Duffield earned 66.7%.

Newport Beach’s population hovers around 85,000, according to U.S. census data.

However, Team Newport candidates believe the results represent the feelings of residents who are unhappy with the current council.

“The voters don’t like the way the city is going,” Peotter said. “We harped on it the whole campaign.”

Some believe that the ticket’s domination of the election signals a changing tide. Team Newport’s campaign messaging leaned more to the right than the more-moderate Republicans like Hill who currently sit on the council.

When the four new council members officially take their seats in December, they may prove a powerful force over councilmen Keith Curry, Tony Petros and Ed Selich, though it remains to be seen whether the campaign slate will act as a dependable voting bloc.

Curry’s been pleased with the work of the council over the past eight years, especially in regard to with capital-improvement projects — many of which were criticized by Team Newport candidates during debates and other public forums leading up to the election.

“I’m going to be very concerned about proposed initiatives that are going to take it off that course,” Curry said. “It remains to be seen how people with a highly hyper-partisan agenda would approach things, but I don’t think the community is going to tolerate it very long.”

As for Hill, his future doesn’t include a return to politics, he said. Instead, he’ll continue his business in real estate consulting, and he’ll golf and spend time with his five grandchildren.

“I didn’t run to have a politician’s life,” he said. “I looked at it as a way to get things done.”


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