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Union ad targets Costa Mesa mayor

COSTA MESA— Election season may be over but a group of Costa Mesa residents and the county employee union have set their sights on the city's mayor by airing a critical ad on local TV and online.

In the one-minute spot, paid for by the Orange County Employees Assn., somber music leads into audio and video clips of Mayor Gary Monahan on St. Patrick's Day. While other City Council members, residents and employees gathered at City Hall after Huy Pham jumped to his death, Monahan remained at the Irish bar he owns while news crews captured him on camera.

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"It's outrageous they're taking advantage of a tragedy to push a political agenda," Monahan said. "It's typical union politics. You can't argue the facts, so they do personal attacks, and I won't have any part of it."

Those who had a hand in challenging the mayor and the council majority denied that they were using Pham's death to political advantage.

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"A lot of residents, everyone of all political persuasions, we're concerned with what is happening in the city," said Greg Ridge, a longtime resident active in city politics. "We're not trying to politicize Huy Pham, but this was a direct result of the layoffs."

The "facts" to which Monahan refers are estimates that show rising pension costs over the next five years in Costa Mesa. The estimates led to the council earlier this month issuing notices to more than 200 city workers that their job could be outsourced in six months.

City employees and some residents have argued that the calculations on which the estimates are based are inaccurate and that the council's action reflected conservative ideology that favors privatization over actual financial need.

In the days after Pham's death, residents could be seen gathering at his memorial on the east side of City Hall. That's where this group of residents, calling itself Repair Costa Mesa, was born.

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"Basically we start talking to each other at City Hall, sitting there with a candle," said former mayor Sandy Genis. "You know how it takes someone to say 'OK, let's get together here on this date.'"

Members say Repair Costa Mesa's ideologies are disparate, except when it comes to criticizing the City Council's decision to outsource city services.

"I was talking to someone who's a screaming Tea Party birther, and I'm a bleeding heart liberal, and we're in agreement on this," said Ridge. "I've never seen such lockstep."

The ad is heavily critical of Monahan, though Genis, Ridge and OCEA officials won't go as far as to call for him to step down as mayor. The largely ceremonial mayorship rotates among the part-time council members, who vote in their choice.

"My biggest fear right now is that if Monahan steps aside that [Councilman Jim Righeimer] becomes king," Ridge said of the mayor pro tem, who supports the outsourcing plan opposed by the employee groups. "I don't know how that would help us."

The ad is less political than a call to action, according to a union spokeswoman.

"What the ad says to me is, 'Step up, be a leader,'" said Jennifer Muir of the OCEA. "Be a leader and rescind these layoff notices that they are addressing as part of a solution that still needs a problem."

Among other things, the ad shows pictures of Pham's memorial and then Monahan working in slow motion.

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"When tragedy struck Costa Mesa City Hall, Mayor Gary Monahan was too busy to show up," the ad says in letters flashed on the screen. "His priority was St. Patrick's Day."

Monahan later explained it's the busiest day of the year at Skosh Monahan's, and his presence at City Hall would have only enraged the already emotional crowd further since he voted in favor of the layoff notices.

The ad then shows a clip from a press conference a day later, where Monahan refused to answer reporters' questions about why he didn't go to City Hall after the death before walking out of the room.

"If you think Costa Mesa deserves better, tell him to keep walking," the ad says.

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