The Costa Mesa mayor’s race veered into Orange County Superior Court this week when a former City Council member filed a petition seeking to delete parts of the candidate statement submitted by current Mayor Sandy Genis for her November election showdown against Councilwoman Katrina Foley.
Monday’s filing from resident Wendy Leece would place about a third of Genis’ candidate statement on the chopping block. Leece alleges that portions are false, misleading and improperly reference and denigrate Foley.
“This has not been an easy decision — Sandy and I have been friends for more than 30 years,” Leece said Friday. “It’s all right for friends to disagree. The election code is clear: A candidate cannot compare to another candidate. A ballot statement must not be false or misleading.”
Leece said she’s asking for the disputed language to be struck because “every candidate needs to follow the law and be clear in context of past experience so that all voters are not misled.”
Genis, however, maintains that her statement is accurate. “I’m confident we will prevail on that,” she said.
“I think it’s unfortunate that we’ve gotten to this level in our local elections,” Genis added. “It’s simply intended as a distraction to take away from the issues we should be looking at in the campaign.”
A hearing on the petition is scheduled for Monday.
Among the portions Leece is seeking to erase is Genis’ contention that she was the “only mayoral candidate to stand up against [the] Orange County Needle Exchange Program in state review.”
“What is ‘in state review?’” Leece said. “It’s misleading because the average voter would not know that everybody, all the council members, went on record in several votes to oppose it.”
Foley and Genis were part of two 4-0 City Council votes this month opposing the mobile needle-exchange service, which received state approval in July to operate in Costa Mesa and three other Orange County cities. One vote was to join the county in legal action seeking to block the program; the other was to adopt an urgency ordinance prohibiting needle exchanges anywhere in the city.
The two also made public statements against the service at the May 1 council meeting.
Other disputed passages in Genis’ statement include claims that she was the only candidate to “vote to protect single-family neighborhoods from wholesale duplex conversion,” “vote no on high-density 2015 general plan,” “vote no on 56 unit/acre, costly for taxpayers (over $1,500,000) Motor Inn project,” and to support “financial reserves at full level recommended by Costa Mesa Finance Advisory Committee.”
Leece alleges those claims are false and misleading because they either misstate Foley’s past votes and public statements or contain inaccurate information.
Leece also takes issue with the section reading “Costa Mesa residents have the right to clean, open government and decisions free of cronyism. No backroom deals.”
Though that statement doesn’t mention a particular person or action, Leece’s petition alleges it is “false and improper” and runs afoul of a provision of state elections code that “prohibits statements that make reference to another candidate’s character or activities.”
“I’m disappointed that Ms. Genis is using the ballot booklet to attempt to degrade me,” Foley said Friday. “She’s really misleading the voters as to my record, which is nearly identical to hers as to all of these issues.”
Genis, a Mesa Verde resident, was elected to the council in 2012 and 2016 and previously served from 1988 to 1996. Foley, who lives in Mesa del Mar, rejoined the council in 2014 after having served from 2004 to 2010.
Foley’s council colleagues appointed her as mayor in December 2016 following that year’s election. However, she was removed from the role in favor of Genis during a highly contentious meeting in November.
Now the two are on opposing sides in the race to become the first Costa Mesa mayor directly elected by voters rather than chosen among council members. The election is Nov. 6.
“I am going to continue to run a very positive campaign that talks about the issues and why I think I am best suited to lead our city in a positive, collaborative, inclusive way,” Foley said. “Ms. Genis has chosen to run a negative campaign against me. That’s truly disappointing.”
Genis, however, said it’s unfortunate “that the Foley team is willing to go to court to suppress what I consider to be a pretty good record on the council.”
“They must think so too if they want to suppress it,” she said.