Newport council race draws a crowd

Newport Beach Councilwoman Nancy Gardner once told me about a very interesting aspect of her job.

She described how, in the city, little brushfires of resident concern are always popping up. How she and the rest of the City Council handle each of these iswhether they have a happy resident or create an activist.

And if the activist is ignored or brushed off, then the fire grows and you’ve created a movement.

Normally a movement won’t change the city too much, especially since we have had basically the same council for nearly a decade.

But couple discontent with a council election with three open seats – and Rush Hill up for re-election – and reading through the list of candidates for the 2014 vote could prove daunting.

Already I’ve met with two planning commissioners, Mike Toerge and Tim Brown, who are running and another planning commissioner, Kory Kramer, who is seriously considering it, as well as many other people who are surveying the landscape.

In the termed-out Gardner’s District 6, Toerge has already quit the planning commission and announced his run for council, which should clear much of the field for the 30-year resident . However, there remain some potential candidates who see Toerge as not that much of a shoo-in, and you can expect to see one, if not two, more candidates jump in before the end of summer.

In Leslie Daigle’s 4th District – she’s also termed out – Brown has already shared his intention to run, and now Parks, Beaches & Recreation Commissioner Roy Englebrecht has officially announced, which should create a pretty dynamic campaign. Add into that mix a couple other potential candidates and the district will have more choices in 2014 than it’s had in the previous 10 years combined.

In termed-out Mike Henn’s District 1, there are no planning commissioners in the mix, but newcomer and newly appointed Harbor Commissioner Joe Stapleton has been making the rounds of Newport Beach’s “Old Guard,” touting his Pacific Club locker proximity to Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer as a credentialbuilder.

But the 800-pound gorilla in that 1st District has to be Bob Rush, who has gone from one of those brushfire activists to a politically respected heavyweight, having played a major role in taking down Daigle in the 2012 Assembly race. While he hasn’t officially announced, the specter of his candidacy will keep many of the anti-establishment folks out, while the Old Guard will continue to pump up Stapleton to try to keep status quo.

If Rush doesn’t run, expect to see a glut of names water that race down. If he does run, it’ll be his for the taking.

While incumbency in Newport Beach has typically proved safe, Mayor Pro Tem Rush Hill in District 3 might actually face a serious contender, with many big-shot names being bandied around as potentials. We’ll see if the dockfee brushfire flares up to burn Hill, stoked by the memory of Hill cursing at many of the activists less than a year after receiving thousands of dollars of political contributions from those same people.

And then there are the rumors stirring of a Mayor Keith Curry recall campaign. The 2014 Newport Beach City Council race will be one to remember. I can’t wait.

Jack Wu lives in Newport Beach.

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