For the first time in 65 years, Costa Mesa voters will select council members by district, launching a potential Balkanization of our town, pitting one district’s interests against others. And, for the first time, the mayor of our city will be directly elected by the voters instead of being chosen by council members from among their peers.
I have never seen such a contentious, divisive political season in all my years as a Costa Mesan, and I’m concerned that our city might not recover from the wounds being inflicted in this campaign. Civility is a lost art in our town these days.
Since the campaigning began in earnest this summer, two clear factions have emerged. One, which includes current Mayor Sandra Genis, current council member and former mayor Allan Mansoor (running for District 5), unknown newcomer Michelle Figueredo-Wilson (running for District 4) and Brett Eckles (running for District 3), appears to be at least partly supported by developer interests and other friends of termed-out Councilman Jim Righeimer and former mayor Steve Mensinger, who was soundly defeated in his run for re-election two years ago in a statement by the voters that they’d had enough of Righeimer and Mensinger’s pro-developer stances.
The other faction is led by former mayor Katrina Foley and includes outstanding candidates Arlis Reynolds (District 5), a hometown woman with an M.I.T. engineering degree, a successful career and strong community volunteer history, including currently serving as the vice chairwoman of the Parks and Recreation Commission; Andrea Marr (District 3), a Naval Academy graduate with five years of service in the United States Navy where she led sailors in hostile waters and has shown a strong volunteer spirit, serving on two important committees, since moving to our city six years ago; and Manuel Chavez (District 4), another home-grown product of our schools and a UC Irvine graduate who, despite his youth, has been heavily involved in his community since a child. Nobody has a better understanding of the residents, and a feel for the needs of District 4, than Manuel Chavez.
Steve Chan (District 4) and Rebecca Trahan (District 5) are outliers and bring little for the voters to consider, but both tilt strongly toward the Genis faction, which could complicate the votes in their districts.
My wife and I mailed our completed ballots off to the Registrar of Voters and they included our votes for Foley. This time around we get no vote for our council district. If we could have, we would have also voted for Reynolds, Marr and Chavez.
How will the campaign combatants reconcile their differences, resolve the bad feelings generated over the past couple months and find ways to work together for the good of all our residents? We’ve seen this campaign fracture old alliances and friendships. How do those get repaired?
In my view, that will take strong leadership — something Foley has clearly demonstrated throughout her political and volunteer career, and especially during her year as mayor, when she guided the prioritization of issues for the future of our city.
Genis has not shown leadership since ousting Foley. Quite the contrary, Genis has allowed others to guide the ship during her recent mayoral tenure.
The future of our city is in the hands of the voters, who will cast their ballots in the most important election since the formation of this city. I hope they do it with care.