Traditionally, a political party’s endorsement meant a great deal to local candidates’ electability.
But as the curtain lifts on the discourse behind those endorsements, I wonder how much juice they’ll really have with Newport Beach voters this season.
City Council races are supposed to be non-partisan, and since Republicans dominate Newport, more times than not we see Republicans running against Republicans.
Watching them eat their own, though entertaining, doesn’t do much for the party’s credibility.
But that doesn’t seem to matter, as we saw last week at the O.C. Republican Central Committee.
The night the GOP Central Committee was choosing whom to endorse, OC Political — “a right-of-center-blog” — wrote a blow-by-blow description of the discussions that ultimately led to endorsements. It’s an interesting read at ocpolitical.com/category/republican-central-committee/.
When it came time to determine who in Newport would get the nod, things didn’t go well for council candidate Fred Ameri.
Ameri, running against Phil Greer and Will O’Neill for District 7, was the choice for the endorsement committee.
Ameri has a long history with the party. He served as an alternate for former state Sen. Tom Harman on the Central Committee, was a business partner of the late former O.C. Republican Chairman Tom Fuentes — who got Ameri involved in the GOP — and helped grow the party by registering 5,000 Republicans through the Iranian American Republican Council, which he founded.
Ameri calls the current GOP head honcho Fred Whitaker “a friend.”
Though Ameri has contributed beaucoup bucks to O.C. Republican candidates for years, his contributions to Democrats — brought to the committee’s attention by Newport Councilman Scott Peotter — seem to have created problems for him.
Now, it’s not an uncommon practice for businesses to cover their bets by donating to both parties. My husband did it when he was in business, calling them his “anti-assassination fees.” Elections are a crap shoot, and his goal was to be friendly with everyone.
Ameri tells me the deck was stacked against him at the Central Committee meeting, as those opposed to his endorsement came out in force, including former O.C. Republican Chairman Scott Baugh, Peotter and Newport Councilman Kevin Muldoon.
Whitaker made a motion the party remain neutral in the race.
Ameri wasn’t happy, and then said he was out of there.
Ameri tells me he just said, “I’m out of here” because he thought it was a done deal.
The tide changed, and after Ameri left the endorsement went to O’Neill, who is represented by political consultant Dave Ellis.
Ellis’s other candidate in the Newport District 5 race, Lee Lowrey, also got the GOP nod, beating out Mike Glenn and Jeff Herdman, who wasn’t involved here.
Ameri told me he’s “shocked at how corrupt the inner-workings of politics and the goings-on in our Central Committee is.”
So did Ameri get hosed?
Or did the Central Committee just take a clue from that famous quote by legendary actress Mae West, “When caught between two evils I generally pick the one I’ve never tried before.”
Who knows? The real issue for voters in Newport isn’t party affiliation. It’s whether they want to continue to build the Team Newport concept on this council, or start to dismantle it, so I don’t see these endorsements mattering much.
Ameri did, however, get the influential Lincoln Club’s endorsement.
And one endorsement that I think will mean a lot to voters comes from the Political Action Committee, Line in the Sand.
Readers may remember this PAC came out of the core group SPON — Still Protecting Our Newport — spearheaded by longtime community activist Jean Watt.
Line in the Sand will announce endorsements next week, but I’ve got the early scoop.
Members Nancy Skinner and Watt told me their group has chosen to endorse Greer over Ameri and O’Neill, and will support Herdman over Glenn and Lowrey.
They’re neutral in the race between Brad Avery and Shelley Henderson.
Skinner says the fact that Lowrey, Henderson, Avery and O’Neill didn’t show up for Feet to the Fire Forum weighed heavily with her committee.
Watt and Skinner also said in evaluating candidates their committee had concerns about those represented by Ellis feeling he had “too much influence over them” as candidates — and if they are elected.
Skinner says Greer and Herdman “reflect the mission of Line in the Sand to advocate for our town.”
Greer tells me he’s “ecstatic, pleased and humbled” by the endorsement, and calls Line in the Sand the “quintessential neighborhood organization that understands what residents want and are willing to stand up for it.”
BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at email@example.com.