Norm Westwell isn't "Firecracker" anymore.
That was the nickname he ran under in past elections, one he said an opposing candidate bestowed on him because of his support for legalizing fireworks. The name stuck, to the point where even the Independent regularly listed him as "Norm 'Firecracker' Westwell" in candidate profiles.
This year, though, the nickname is gone. And it's not the only thing Westwell has done differently in his fifth run for Huntington Beach City Council. For the first time, he's walking precincts and talking to voters one-on-one. He's putting up large signs with his name around town. And he's raising money in earnest, with $7,910 so far this year.
In short, Westwell, who has served on the Ocean View School District's Board of Trustees since 2006, is running to win for the first time.
"I was running as an activist trying to get people involved," he said about his attempts in 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006. "Getting elected was secondary. But I realize this is a winnable campaign this time."
It's a competitive race, with 21 contenders vying for four open seats. But Westwell thinks he has a few advantages over many of his challengers: He's the vice president of a small, family-owned Surf City business, TruWest, which manufactures athletic swimwear and he has name recognition both from his prior campaigns and his time on the school board.
And as an outspoken Libertarian, he suspects that his vision of small government will appeal to many voters in the wake of the taxpayer scandal in Bell, where City Council members and other officials were found to be making exorbitant salaries.
Libertarians in public office are few and far between — to the point where the California party's website monitors each one. Still, Ocean View Supt. Alan Rasmussen, who endorsed Westwell this year, said he doesn't think party affiliation will hinder him on the dais.
"I'm supporting him because he's really a person of integrity," Rasmussen said. "He makes his decisions based on the data he's given, and he's always open to listening to different points of view, which I think is critical for any leader to do. I can't recommend him highly enough."
As a candidate, Westwell favors reducing the number of city employees and transferring maintenance jobs like tree-trimming and brick-laying to the private sector. He would prefer to shrink the city's payroll by not filling vacated jobs, but said he would be willing to initiate layoffs if other council members considered that the best solution.
The issue of limited government, he said, often comes up when he campaigns door to door. After he tells voters about himself and his platform, their first question is often what salary Westwell will make if he's elected. But he considers it a healthy development that, after Bell, more voters are now questioning local government.
"I anticipate being under the microscope," Westwell said. "As well we should be."