I'm pretty sure Ronald Reagan would agree with me on this: For Newport Beach, there are better historical figures to canonize with bronze statues at the new Civic Center than the 40th president of the United States.
In fact, if I could interview Reagan today, here's what I believe he'd say:
Mr. President, they want to put a statue of you on the grounds of the new Civic Center in Newport Beach. What do you think?
Well, that's certainly flattering, but why Newport Beach? I didn't spend too much time there, though I loved the Balboa Bay Club, and Nancy and I took some wonderful cruises around the harbor. Oh, and I could always count on raising a lot of money there. Good people.
Keith Curry, a Newport Beach councilman, worked in your administration in the 1980s and is a big admirer and wants the city to honor you on the 100th anniversary of your birth.
They're not spending taxpayer money on this, are they?
No, Curry is raising the $50,000 in private donations.
Then he learned well. But I do think there are enough statues of me, and my presidential library is right up the road in Simi Valley. I'm sure there are more deserving people in Newport's history to memorialize at a local city hall.
But many people here think you were one of the top five presidents in U.S. history.
[Chuckles.] That figures. Newport can be as conservative as a crew cut. Still, I'm not sure a City Hall is the place for statues of national political figures. I mean, I wouldn't be in favor of Santa Monica commissioning a sculpture of Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy, either. It doesn't fit with the flavor of local politics. I say save memorials for me for Washington D.C., my hometown in Illinois, Sacramento where I served as governor or Hollywood/Bel Air where I spent much of my life.
Do you think some people in Newport will see the Ronald Reagan statue at City Hall as a message that conservative politics have a special place of honor?
[Laughing again.] Well, I wouldn't have gotten that statue for my acting career! I couldn't even get that little Oscar figurine. I'm sure many people will see it as a 21-gun salute to Republicanism — how could they not? I just don't see the need to politicize a civic center with memorials for national figures. Again, if I lived in Santa Monica, I would hate to go into City Hall and be greeted with the likeness of Bill Clinton. I'm confident enough with my legacy that I don't need statues around the country as China did with Chairman Mao or Cuba does with Castro.
Do you have any wisdom on what kind of artwork belongs in the new civic center?
I'd go with something local. Maybe get an artist to draw murals of key moments in local history. That kind of thing would connect everyone to the city's roots. Newport has a rich history, doesn't it?
It's amazing. You think a lot like me, Mr. President. I see the artwork — whether they are murals, bronzes or something else — being about Newport's past — the indigenous people of the coast, the McFadden Brothers who founded the town, the wild days of Balboa when the rum, gambling and women could all be found for a price, the opening of Newport's first school, the Irvine family and the development of their ranch, the creation of Newport's islands and breakwater, Bal Week, the Boy Scout Jamboree that drew 30,000 scouts and their leaders to what's now Newport Center, the bodysurfers at the Wedge … there's so much!
Son, I wish I had you in my cabinet, back in the day. You're a real clear thinker! Your idea would tie today's residents with those from the past and instill a pride in Newport Beach that you wouldn't get from a statue of me. A Reagan bronze would make some people feel great, others angry and most left scratching their heads, wondering, "Why in the heck is that Reagan statue here?"
Mr. President, you'd better get used to the idea. The vote to approve your statue was unanimous with no discussion. It's scheduled to be finished by summer.
Well, that's politics for you. What council member in a basically conservative town would speak out against a statue of me? But you know what? I personally would have admired the heck out of them if they did go against the grain. I did for many, many years.
Good point. While I got you, can I ask you a few more questions?
Fire away, young man.
What do you think about today's divisive politics?
I love a good, even fierce, political debate. It's what made this country great. But the personal attacks and hatred make me ill. I truly loved most of my liberal opponents, including Tip O'Neill and Ted Kennedy.
The state of California?
So sad. The problem isn't tax revenues. It's no discipline on the spending side — same thing in Washington. I see what's happened to the University of California, for example, once one of the world's greatest college systems, and I just have to shake my head. I worry that no one will have the political courage to deal with the budget realities until something catastrophic happens.
I'm sure you've been following this. Is Costa Mesa Councilwoman Wendy Leece a true conservative, despite voting for a multi-year contract for the police union that only had modest pension concessions?
Yes, and you can quote me on that.
What would you do with Triangle Square?
Well, I helped bring down the Soviet Union, but I really don't have a clue as to how to revitalize that shopping center — same with the homeless problem in Lions Park. Hmmm, maybe you could house the homeless in Triangle Square?
Who's going to win the Super Bowl, the Packers or Steelers?
A conservative game plan and the world's best defense will always make you a winner, whether it's the USA or a football team. The Pittsburgh Steelers, 28-17.
WILLIAM LOBDELL — a former editor of the Daily Pilot and Los Angeles Times journalist — is a Costa Mesa resident who runs a boutique public relations firm. The column runs Tuesday and Friday. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.