Rush Hill and Ed Reno, vying for the open District 3 council seat, shared a podium for the first time Wednesday night at the Speak Up Newport candidate forum and while it was all quite civil, a few jabs were thrown.
Also on hand were incumbent Leslie Daigle and challenger Mark Tabbert from District 4, and unopposed incumbent Nancy Gardner.
After greeting and mingling with familiar faces in the crowd and prominent citizens of Newport Beach, each candidate made a statement and then the floor was opened up and questions were posed.
Opening remarks began with Reno and one of his key points revolved around the airport.
“This council will deal with the proliferation, or hopefully non-proliferation, of the airport,” Reno said.
As chief lobbyist for the pharmaceutical giant Allergan, he noted, he has the contacts in Washington, DC, to effectively represent the city there. Last week, Reno’s campaign trumpeted a meeting he had with a key member of Congress on the airport issue.
Another big issue, Reno stated, was the health of the bay and the amount of dredging taking place.
Hill, in his remarks, stressed, “The most important thing about me is that I’m a Reagan-trained fiscal conservative. Reagan was my mentor and I view this not as an economic crisis, but an economic opportunity.”
The first of two questions, submitted in writing and chosen by the moderator, was about what each candidate planned on doing with the current City Hall site after the new Civic Center is built.
Hill suggested that the space be utilized, saying, “I see a low-intensity, high-revenue area there.”
Reno said, “The area is underperforming right now,” and added that it should go into a, “recycled state.”
The second question submitted had to do with city employee pensions and whether or not they were being adequately addressed.
Reno and Hill both said reform is needed, and Reno said, “We have 60 retired state employees making over $100,000 per year. We have to come together with our employees because we go broke if they don’t work with us.”
Hill added, “We need to move to full funding. The current retirement age of state employees is 50, but I think if you’re holding a gun or a hose it should be 55, and administration should be 60.”
Then the candidates were then given the opportunity to ask each other a question, and things got a little more pointed.
Hill went first and asked of Reno if he would commit to a full four-year term as council member even though swirling rumors suggest that he could be looking to run for a higher office or seek an appointment. Reno replied adamantly, “I will. Washington and Sacramento are broken. This is the frontlines, and this is where our quality of life is most responsive.”
For his question, Reno noted his endorsement by the county Republican Party, gained in part by his vow not to take campaign contributions from government employee associations. He then asked Hill, who has no foresworn such contributions, how he’d be able to reform and negotiate city employee pensions if the employees are campaign contributors.
Hill said, “I’m aware of the financial penalties these pensions can create. We have no choice [but to] solve these problems.”
Closing remarks were brief. Hill pointed out that he’s endorsed by, “10 mayors, 20 citizens of the year, and Friends of the Oasis Senior Center.” Hill also said, “We’re not a single town, we’re a collection of unique villages.”
After Hill’s closing statement Reno said, “You can see why I’m the underdog.”
Reno said he’s running because “this community represents my family’s future.”
Speak Up Newport will host its next event on Oct. 13, where the candidates will again answer the public’s questions and attendees will be able to meet Newport’s new Police Chief Jay Johnson.