Leece mulling a run for 48th Congressional District

Costa Mesa City Councilwoman Wendy Leece confirmed Saturday that she is weighing a run for Congress.

Leece, a Republican, is exploring a race for the 48th Congressional District seat held by longtime U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa).

Leece pulled in-lieu papers with the Orange County Registrar of Voters on Thursday — a preliminary step that doesn't include an official candidate's statement or paying any filing fees. She said she is now gathering voter signatures and acknowledged that if she doesn't gather enough support, she will stop the effort.

"This is an opportunity for me to take the experience and knowledge that I have and work with people of all political parties and political persuasions," Leece said. "I will listen to them in the next few weeks and see if there's support for me to finish the filing."

The 65-year-old Westside resident will be termed out from the council in November after serving two four-year terms. Leece, a substitute teacher, was first elected to the council in 2006 after serving two terms on the Newport-Mesa Unified School District's board and a few years on Costa Mesa's Parks and Recreation Commission.

Leece said she doesn't expect to get the Republican Party's nomination for the 48th district seat, which will likely go to Rohrabacher, who is seeking his 14th term in Washington.

"I know it's an uphill battle," she said. "But it's a new day in politics for all people, independents, in all parties, to solve our nation's problems ... It's gridlock back there, because people don't want to listen to the other side, collaborate and solve the problem."

Within the past few years Leece has often found herself on the dissenting side of the council majority when it comes to many of its major decisions, including a March 2011 proposal that could have laid off nearly half the city's workforce and June's decision to outsource the city jail.

"I've been a voice crying in the wilderness," she said. "Let's take our time. There's no hurry. Let's get our facts before rushing in this decision."

Alongside her frequent political ally, Councilwoman Sandy Genis, she also voted against a hotly contested turnaround space in Fairview Park and Mayor Jim Righeimer's changes to the public commenting structure at council meetings. She also campaigned against a city charter measure in November 2012 that, while backed by Righeimer and his supporters, faced heavy opposition from organized labor and community activist groups like Costa Mesans for Responsible Government.

"I have represented what I feel are the people of Costa Mesa who do not want to move so fast or make mistakes," she said. "They want to come to decisions with all the information ... That's just who I am."

On her own behalf, Leece hosted several town-hall meetings about public safety in the past few years. As a revenue-generating measure, she also inquired about changing the city's business license fee, which tops out at $200 per year for the city's highest grossing businesses. She said in June that while the tax structure might not need any changes because it's an incentive, she questioned the fee disparity between small businesses and the high-revenue ones found in South Coast Plaza.

As the voting minority on the council, Leece said some of her ideas have never had enough votes to come to fruition. Thus, she said, her successes have been more under the radar, such as supporting an after-school program for low-income children.

"I think my record is one of deliberation, collaboration and working together with all sides to solve the problem," she said.

As far as local issues, Leece said she still has her eye on helping the city's libraries and its military affairs, including finding a headquarters for the American Legion. She has lived in Costa Mesa's Westside since 1972.

Leece said she will not accept any contributions more than $100 toward her campaign.

"I do not want to be beholden to anyone, to any group, to any business or any interest," she said. "I want to be fair. I don't want to owe anybody if, by God's miracle, I get elected. That's part of the problem in Washington and Sacramento ... when they get elected, they have to pay others back in favors. I don't owe anyone any favors now."

Leece could join a field of six total candidates for the 48th, including Rohrabacher. The other confirmed candidates, according to the county registrar, are Robert J. Banuelos, Robert David Burns, Robert Soloway and Noboru Isagawa.

Termed-out county Supervisor John Moorlach, a Costa Mesa resident, is also running for Congress, but for the 45th Congressional District being vacated by U.S. Rep. John Campbell (R-Irvine), who is retiring. Even though Moorlach, a Republican, does not live in the 45th, federal law does not prohibit him from running for that seat.

The 48th district's boundaries include Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Fountain Valley and portions of Westminster and Santa Ana.

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