Venezia: How candidates act at forum is telling

The April 17 Feet to the Fire Forum looks at the race for the 74th Assembly District, which covers parts of Irvine, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Laguna Woods and Costa Mesa.

The forum returns to the Costa Mesa Community Center, 1845 Park Ave., from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Candidates on the hot seat — so to speak — will be:

• Republican and business owner Emanuel Patrascu,;

• Democrat and middle school teacher Anila Ali,;

• Republican and Huntington Beach Mayor Matthew Harper,;

• Republican and Newport Beach City Councilman Keith D. Curry,;

• Democrat and small business owner Karina Onofre,

Asking the tough questions will be the Feet to the Fire team of Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis, Orange County Register columnist Jack Wu, Voice of OC Editor-in-Chief Norberto Santana Jr. and a special guest panelist, Daily Pilot City Editor Alicia Lopez.

Lopez replaces Tom Johnson, Register columnist, NBTV executive producer, KOCI radio talk show host and former Daily Pilot publisher.

Because Curry voted to have Newport Beach and Co. take the reins of NBTV from the city, and Johnson was part of that package, he didn't want even the hint of conflict of interest to affect the show.

I hadn't considered this when inviting Johnson to be part of the panel, but I respect his decision.

Goodness knows these forums have enough fiery controversy to go around. After all, this is local politics we're talking about.

Behind the scenes, the Feet to the Fire gang and I have been talking about the issues and the candidates in preparation for the 17th.

I urged each of us to get to know the candidates before the forums, as well as read each other's columns dealing with the candidates and their stances on issues.

Every now and then that process produces some unexpected results.

Like what happened when Wu texted Onofre in December to set up a meeting.

She responded, "Jack, I'm so sorry, I won't be able to make it. I am having dinner in Newport with some very powerful politicians."

Now I know Wu well, and he has a quirky sense of humor, which sometimes people don't know how to take.

Apparently Onofre was one of them. She didn't seem to appreciate him writing, "Out of curiosity, who are you meeting with? Blowing off the press is never a good idea ... especially when it's an opinion writer [smiley face] ... Get back to me when you have time."

Onofre responded, "Excuse me? Jack, you must've misunderstood me, I was looking fwd to meeting you to share the details of my Assembly campaign, but with your chauvinistic tone and implied threat, I'm no longer interested in meeting you. Get lost! Until you learn to respect women, don't contact me."

Wow! I guess that smiley face emoticon didn't do it for Onofre.

With texting, sometimes the intent of the message is lost because you don't actually hear the person's voice and the tone of the conversation.

Maybe that was the case here. Regardless, I'm sure they'll work it out on stage as they discuss the issues.

Fiery personalities generally do well on Feet to the Fire.

Passion hits a chord with the audience members, but there's a fine line between passion and anger, which we've also seen alienate voting viewers.

During sound check before each forum, I give participants a little pep talk on the do's and don'ts of being on stage. Since the shows are taped, I remind them that their performances will be played back many times on TV.

A good performance can do wonders for a candidate's standing. And a poor performance will come back to haunt him or her.

Not only will the viewing public judge the candidates on how they respond to questions regarding their views on the issues, but on body language as well.

I've seen candidates who've squirmed in their seats, played with their hair or constantly touched their lapels, thus interfering with their mics. It all distracted from the important points they were raising.

Those who sit back and relax into the situation get higher marks with the audience.

Feet to the Fire isn't meant to embarrass or "go after" candidates. It was created to offer an informal political discussion about issues so personalities will shine.

And who you are is just as important as what you stand for when it comes to holding office.

I'm looking forward to a lively discussion and wish all our candidates good luck.

I know they'll all be great, and there's much interest in this Assembly race.

BARBARA VENEZIA, whose column appears Fridays, lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at

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