Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry on Saturday defended his decision to accept a complimentary $3,400 trip to Turkey last year, saying he doesn’t believe it stands in the way of his job.
“Turkish national issues do not come before the City Council,” he said. “The city of Newport Beach does not have a foreign-policy agenda.”
Curry reported the 11-day trip as part of $5,400 in gifts he received in 2009 on financial disclosure forms required by the state. The Orange County Register was first to report the travel, which appeared to be within legal limits, Friday evening.
Curry was invited by Irvine-based Pacifica Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to strengthen relations between Americans and Turks by opening a venue for dialogue among people of both countries, he said.
“They want to demonstrate that not all Muslim Americans are sympathetic to terrorists, and they want to open a dialogue with people of different views, religions and cultures,” Curry said, adding that he never believed that all Muslim Americans were sympathetic to terrorists.
“The trip was designed to promote cultural awareness and understanding, and I think that’s a worthy cause,” he said. “We’re a multicultural community.”
Curry’s wife, Pamela, joined him on the trip to Turkey, but he said she paid for her own airfare.
In November, Curry said, 31 members from Turkey visited Mariners Church in Irvine, which he’s affiliated with, to promote understanding between Americans. The Turkish visitors were invited to dinner at Curry’s house, he said.
While Newport Beach does not have a large Muslim population, Curry said he’s met with the Turkish, Iranian and Jewish communities to promote diversity. Curry was invited by the institute a few years ago, but his schedule prevented him from visiting until this past fall, he said.
“I was very grateful to see the commitment of this group to dialogue and to understand people of different views,” Curry said. “While there, we stayed in people’s homes and ate dinner in people’s homes and schools and talked about different issues, including women’s rights, and we felt it was very beneficial.”
Curry’s 2009 disclosure form, which he filed last week, also included free meals and sports tickets.
Curry reported receiving food, beverages and gifts valued at $400 from the Rotary Club of Okazaki, Japan, while on a trip to the Newport Beach sister city.
Curry said the amount of 2009 disclosures is high because it included an overseas trip. His disclosures are not unlawful; state law places a cap of $420 on the value of gifts politicians or public figures may receive. But there’s no cap on the total value of the overall gifts one may receive.
Although the $3,400 for the trip to Turkey exceeds the $420 cap, Curry said there’s an exception for educational travel overseas when it is sponsored by a nonprofit.