Wu: Newport's district elections are puzzling

Referring to IRS laws and regulations, the senior partner in my former accounting firm once told me that you complicate to deceive, simplify to tell the truth. Keep that in mind.

On July 16, anyone who wants to run for one of the three seats on the Newport Beach City Council can pull papers. These nomination papers and declarations of candidacy need to be turned in by Aug. 10 to qualify for the November ballot.

Because Newport is divided into districts, the seats up for election are District 1/West Newport (Councilman Steve Rosansky is termed out), District 5/Balboa Island (Councilman Ed Selich is running for his second full term) and District 7/Newport Coast (Councilman Keith Curry is running for reelection).

While the candidates run in districts, anyone in the city can vote for them. This is not a good plan.

Imagine if Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) and Newport businessman Bob Rush, both running for the 74th Assembly District (Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Laguna Woods and Irvine) had to appeal to voters in El Cajon.

Santa Ana and Seal Beach run in districts, but residents can only vote for their district's candidates. That's also true of bigger cities, like Long Beach and Los Angeles.

Newport loves being different.

Run in districts, vote at large. Complicated.

And I know the next question on your mind: Has anyone ever won a council seat without winning his or her district?

In 2008, Rosansky did just that. In fact, he received more votes from District 6 (Corona del Mar) than the total number of votes cast in his home, District 2.

Back to the 2012 elections. Selich and Curry definitely know more about the city than any challenger could, so they will face no serious contenders.

I'm not talking about the person who is going to run a "spirited" grass-roots, quixotic campaign and spend less than $1,000. I'm talking about the really serious, $100,000-in-the-campaign-bank-account types.

Anyway, Selich and Curry will easily be reelected.

In District 2, with Rosansky termed out, the city will have the excitement of an open seat election.

Open seat = excitement.

Running against an incumbent = futile and ridiculous.

But here is where everything fizzles.

In 2010, the open seat placed the self-proclaimed eighth councilman and eventual winner, Rush Hill, against Republican Party of Orange County-endorsed Ed Reno, and Allergan's political muscle, for the District 3 seat. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent, mailboxes and voicemails were filled. The race went down to the wire.

Before that, the last open seat was in 2006. Four people ran for that seat (including me), hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent, and Mike Henn beat the stuffing out of this horrible writer (I came in second at last).

As of Thursday, only Bicycle Safety Committee member Tony Petros, an LSA Associates Inc. principal and traffic engineer, has announced he will run.

Petros has been campaigning since the middle of 2011, has retained one of Orange County's most prolific political consultants, Dennis DeSnoo, and has earned the endorsement of practically every single Newport Beach muckety-muck, so it might be a little late to jump in now and mount a serious campaign against him.

I live in District 2 and will probably vote for him. He's made a career of being on the other side of the dais, up and down every little town in California, so he'll know how to treat people when he's sitting up there.

But the real reason I'll support him? Like me, he grew up in the dirty, ugly, grimy streets of pre-redevelopment downtown Huntington Beach, listening to the Dead Kennedys and Social Distortion. He's a former punker who traded in his ripped jeans and dyed, spiked hair for a nice suit and a nice watch.

But please, Newport Beach, only one candidate for an open seat? Where is the democracy? Where are the debates? Where are the choices?

I like Petros, but I'm not in that much of a hurry to anoint him.

If it keeps going down this route, this will be one of the quietest Newport Beach City Council races ever.

At least we have Costa Mesa.

JACK WU is an accountant who lives in Newport Beach and practices in Costa Mesa. He is a longtime Republican Party loyalist and a volunteer campaign treasurer for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa). His column runs Sundays on the Daily Pilot Forum page. He can be reached at jack@wubell.com.

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