Sparks Fly at Heated Candidate Forum

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By Sara Hall and Roger Bloom | NB Indy


Some City Council candidates’ toes may have gotten singed last week, as they discussed everything from medical marijuana to the Civic Center project, at times headedly, at the Feet to the Fire Forum.

The forum arrayed the Newport Beach and Costa Mesa council candidates on stage along with a panel of local journalists. It was moderated by Orange County Register columnist Barbara Venezia.

The discussion was open and freewheeling – at times even raucous – with the journalists frequently jumping in with follow-up questions, and candidates sometimes addressing each other directly.

A video of the Feet to the Fire Forum is available on the city website at (click on the NBTV link on the right of the home page).

Among the highlights of the debate:

  • Rush Hill said that he had received a phone call from the corporate counsel of Allergan Inc. in response to his campaign’s controversial “push” poll that tied his opponent, Ed Reno, to animal testing by the company, which employs Reno as its chief lobbyist. He later had a meeting with his campaign staff and told them, “We’re not going there.”
  • “Government is done by those who show up,” said Hill to Reno, in response to Reno’s criticisms of the Civic Center project. He was referring to the design committee that he chaired, which recommended a plan to the City Council after holding dozens of meetings and hearings, none of which Reno attended. Asked by a panelist whether he had had any interest in the project before he decided to run for council, Reno answered with a straightforward “No.”
  • As Hill listed the features of the Civic Center plan that were added in response to public requests and presentations at the design committee, Reno mimed the operation of an adding machine.
  • Incumbent Leslie Daigle, commenting on a question regarding medical marijuana and pain management by seniors, joked that she was perhaps more concerned about marijuana use by people riding bicycles on the boardwalk. “Or Segways,” she added, getting a second laugh.
  • Also on the medical marijuana issue, Daigle’s opponent, Mark Tabbert, spoke forcefully against the federal drug laws.
  • Reno reiterated his pledge not to take campaign donations from city employee unions, most notably the police and fire associations, because of the perception of conflict of interest when the council considers employee contracts. Hill said he did not think stigmatizing or insulting the associations by singling them out is consistent with the “family” approach to problem-solving that he said sets Newport Beach city government apart.


The event was held at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center. This was the first time candidates from both Newport Beach and Costa Mesa shared a forum. A few topics, like Banning Ranch, didn’t make it all the way to the table because of time constraints.

The panel was made up of Orange County Register columnist Frank Mickadeit, Newport Beach Independent Editor Roger Bloom, Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis and Editor Norberto Santana Jr.

Incumbent Newport Beach Councilmembers Nancy Gardner and Michael Henn were not asked to participate, because they are running unopposed.

On the push poll issue, Hill said he had knowledge that his staff was going to conduct a poll, but not that there were any questions pertaining to his opponent’s employer.

The poll was meant to find out what issues were important to the citizens of Newport Beach, Hill said. But when he asked, his staff did acknowledge asking questions about Allergan.

“(I said), ‘We’re not going to go there, we’re not going to do that,’” Hill said.

Hill said the campaign consultnat who conducted the poll is still working for him and that he will be able to control his staff and not run a negative campaign.

Reno, too, promised not to run a negative campaign, He also questioned whether Hill would be able to control his staff as a councilman.

The settlement agreement with John Wayne Airport was another hot topic for the candidates in both cities because it affects both Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.

Tabbert said instead of the “11 to 8, lock the gate” rhyme about flight restrictions that Air Fair penned, he made up his own: Curfew forever, John Wayne never. His new slogan, he said, means that the curfew needs to stay in place or he will try to get people behind him to boycott JWA. He said people might be surprised at how many others have supported his boycott idea.

Hill said he understands this complex issue and he is against expansion.

Reno said because of his relationships in Sacramento and Washington he is a unique position to be able to negotiate the JWA contract.

Reno went on to say that even though he sits on the board of the Orange County Business Council (OCBC) and sees himself as “pro-business,” he does not agree with OCBC and does not want to expand the airport.

The airport, as it stands now, Reno said, is “functioning well for the community.”






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