COSTA MESA — Appearing poised to overcome well-organized political attacks in the final weeks of the election, Planning Commissioner Jim Righeimer and Councilwoman Wendy Leece were leading the race for two open seats on the City Council, early election returns show.
With absentee ballots counted and no precincts reporting, teacher Chris McEvoy appeared to be the No. 3 vote getter.
Trailing were Sue Lester, a marijuana dispensary owner, and Chad Petschl, a salesman.
Righeimer and Leece were both expected to face strong challenges from McEvoy, who benefitted from late spending by Costa Mesa First, an independent expenditure committee led by former Mayor Sandy Genis.
The committee, which received money from both the Costa Mesa police and firefighter associations and various public safety unions countywide, recently began backing McEvoy, among other candidates, making signs for him after he refused to accept donations. The police association began campaigning against Righeimer after he publicly challenged their pay and benefits and vowed to do something about it, should he win.
Leece also faced a last-minute attack from the Orange County Republican Party, after she accepted its endorsement but went on to ignore a directive and vote in favor of employee contracts in Costa Mesa.
The public show down between Righeimer and the Costa Mesa Police Assn. has created a divide among city residents with some who strongly supported Righeimer and others who viciously opposed him.
The tension perhaps reached its peak after Righeimer got out of his car during a DUI checkpoint and questioned police about the wisdom of conducing such operation during rush hour on busy Harbor Boulevard. The association followed with mailers and a billboard hitched on a trailer advertising a website that aired Righeimer's past liens and voting records, including a voicemail he left to a reporter discussing City Council closed session negotiations regarding the sale of the Orange County Fairgrounds.
Voters in Costa Mesa are also showing favor for Measure L, a 2% increase on the hotel tax aimed at reducing the city's deficits.
The projected increase — about $2 million a year — will go toward the city's general fund. The Transient Occupancy Tax, or TOT, would be below the countywide average.