Without looking at this article’s byline, can you name Newport Beach’s mayor? Or the other six Newport Beach City Council members? Compare how you did on those questions with this one: How many United States senators from other states can you name?
My suspicion — born out during local roundtable discussions — is that the vast majority of people can name at least twice as many politicians that do not represent them than those who directly do.
On a personal level, I am comfortable with relative obscurity because it means that we are doing our job well. Indeed, residents typically think of their City Council members only when a core function has gone awry in some way.
Cities are supposed to provide safety and security, laws that target the societal issue and go no farther than justified, honor individual liberties, and provide basic infrastructure like roads and clean water. These are the fundamentals and residents justifiably expect unnoticed excellence.
But a chorus of well-informed people continue to decry the breakdown in civics education. The Wall Street Journal, for example, published a book review that noted that: “Americans should instead find ways to foster both cultural integrity and economic stability nearer their homes – in their states and cities and local communities — which in turn means suppressing the tendency to nationalize every political question and cultural controversy.”
Fortunately, so do a number of Newport Beach residents who donate their time and money to programs encouraging local education and local service.
For example, Joe Stapleton helped launch the Newport Beach Foundation as a nonprofit philanthropic organization strengthening the current and future community leadership through education, research and advocacy to enhance the quality of life for all residents and visitors. They recently hosted a sold-out program for parents called “Tech Smart, Savvy and Safe” in February and will kick of their third round of the “Distinguished Citizens Program” this month.
The Distinguished Citizens Program features presentations from the mayor and every city department head. Quick, can you name our police chief? Public works director? The mayor? (Seriously, did you forget the mayor’s name already?) DCP graduates can name all of these people, know what they do, and know the right people to contact when fundamentals go awry.
We are also fortunate in our city to have a rich history curated by groups like our Newport Beach Historical Society and Balboa Island Museum and Historical Society. I really cannot say enough about Shirley Pepys’ reinvigorated devotion to maintaining the Island’s history. Stop in next time you are on Marine Avenue.
No matter where you started in life, what the journey has looked like, or the bumps encountered along the way, we all live in Newport Beach. Let us revel in our city’s shared history, a common present, and a connected future.
Mayor, Council Member
Will O’Neill joined Newport Beach City Council in 2016. Reach him at [email protected].