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Candidates shine and fade at Feet to the Fire Forum

Candidates shine and fade at Feet to the Fire Forum
Costa Mesa city council candidates debate issues during the Feet to the Fire candidates forum in the Robert Moore theater at Orange Coast College on Sept. 17. (File Photo)

Once again, the Feet to the Fire political talk show was eyeopening, providing insights into the viewpoints and personalities of those running for office in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.

On Sept. 17, eight Costa Mesa City Council candidates took the stage for the first hour. Two mayoral candidates filled out the second hour.

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I, along with my partners — John Canalis, executive editor of Los Angeles Times Community News, and Norberto Santana Jr., publisher of Voice of OC — asked some tough questions — and the conversations turned lively.

Of the District 3 candidates, I felt Brett Eckles proved knowledgeable, but was not as articulate in expressing his views as his opponent, Andrea Marr. He actually agreed with her several times.

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Though they were cordial, which was refreshing, Marr came across as more self-assured.

District 4 is a three-way race among Manuel Chavez, Steve Chan and Michelle Figueredo-Wilson.

Chavez, the youngest candidate ever on F2F, was enthusiastically delightful, but his lack of political seasoning showed. Nevertheless, he may have a great political future.

Chan held his own, as did Figueredo-Wilson. They have very different styles, and both were knowledgeable. But Figueredo-Wilson showed far more passion and personality and seemed to outperform Chan and Chavez at the forum.

District 5 featured Rebecca Trahan, Arlis Reynolds and Councilman Allan Mansoor.

Prior to the event Trahan asked not to be seated next to Mansoor. Part of serving on the council sometimes means sitting next to someone with whom you differ. Nevertheless, on stage, her performance was less than memorable.

Reynolds, on the other hand, exuded self-confidence, challenging Mansoor on several issues, and neither seemed intimidated. I feel this race boils down to the two of them.

The next hour, the mayoral candidates — Councilwoman Katrina Foley and Mayor Sandy Genis — took the stage. Both women knew they’d be asked about the bad blood between them.

Genis has never given a substantive answer as to why she turned against her former political ally, voting to remove Foley as mayor and then promptly taking her place.

F2F could’ve been Genis’ shining moment to explain herself. But she again danced around the topic, which didn’t impress me.

When we did get to discussing issues, both women seemed close in expressed ideology — same as when they ran together for council in 2014. Listening to all of this convinced me the ill will between them is personality-driven — on Genis’ part.

But the most telling moment came when I asked them whom they supported for council.

Foley quickly named her picks, but Genis declined. I felt that was a slap in the face to council candidates — who in the previous hour gave their mayoral picks without hesitation.

All things considered, I think Foley won this round.

On Sept. 21 we held Newport’s Feet to the Fire, and it was the show I’d always imagined this forum could be. Four candidates — Tim Stoaks, Joy Brenner, Roy Englebrecht and Mike Glenn — discussed myriad issues openly and honestly, offering solutions with intelligent, measured thought.

Glenn’s opponent, Councilwoman Diane Dixon, declined our invitation, offering to send her husband in her place. F2F is for candidates only.

Stoaks’ opponent, Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, Englbrecht’s opponent, Councilman Kevin Muldoon, and Brenner’s opponent, Councilman Scott Peotter, also declined, which wasn’t surprising since they didn’t attend in 2014 either.

Ours wasn’t the only forum they ditched, as they’ve cherrypicked which ones to attend. I imagine this tactic isn’t sitting well with some community groups, who put great effort into organizing the debates.

When I see candidates who won’t show, I’m reminded of Robot B9 from “Lost in Space,” uttering his iconic warning, “Danger, Danger Will Robinson!”

In this case, the danger is in not sitting for questions when you’re running for office and gambling on the fact that voters will accept that.

Watch both forums on feet2thefireforum.com

Barbara Venezia is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com

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