Venezia’s View: Watch Focus on Newport Campaign Bunnies Fade

Barb Venezia-2014-11-1825786
Print More

It was a bloody, ugly campaign season in Newport Beach.

Sweeping changes on the city council have political insiders wondering what comes next.

Mayor Ed Selich, of the old guard, now faces a majority of newbies calling themselves” Team Newport”– Marshall Duffield, Scott Peotter, Kevin Muldoon and Mayor Pro Tem Diane Dixon — who have their own agendas.

So what would he say in his State of the City address, hosted at the 34th Annual Mayor’s Dinner Feb. 5th held at the Newport Beach Marriott and put on by Speak Up Newport?

Would he mention the controversial bunny sculptures?

The opulent city hall/civic center project?

Peotter focused on both these issues during his campaign and continues to say he wants to see the bunnies removed.

Tongues were wagging during the cocktail hour with many categorizing Peotter’s bunny obsession as laughable, and suggesting that unless he tones down the crazy, Newport politics might start looking like Costa Mesa’s.

Then there were those jokingly taking bets, as to how long Duffield will actually stay on the council now that the FPPC has sent a 10-page letter outlining his potential conflicts of interest to City Attorney Aaron Harp.

I had a feeling Selich was going to make it a speech to remember; after all, he’s termed out, so basically he has nothing to lose.

Would he take the moment?

Boy, did he ever!

Selich started his speech with a humorous bit saying Thursday nights he usually writes thank you notes, and proceeded to “write them.”

He wrote one to political campaign consultant Dave Ellis saying, “thank you for managing all the candidates I didn’t support.” Of course he was talking about his new co-councilmembers Team Newport.

Then he had some fun with becoming mayor, joking that it is about as easy as getting Stop the Dock Tax’s Bob McCaffrey to smile.

You could sense nervous laughter in the room.

“I chose to start off with a bit of humor this evening. We have been through a rough election cycle and campaign season this past fall. I think it is important to step back and laugh at ourselves a bit to keep things in perspective. Although what we do is serious work, it should not be so serious that we cannot see the humor that emerges from it,” he said.

Selich went on to say he felt honored to serve as mayor for a third time and stated his speech theme would be “Stay the Course.”

At that moment I knew he was about to step way out of the box.

“After the 2006 Election I dubbed the newly elected City Council the ‘Dream Team.’ I did so because of the unique blend of talents, the personal chemistry, and dedication to make our city a better place. I am proud and honored to serve with those 8 individuals elected in 2006, 2010, and 2012. Mike Henn, Don Webb, Steve Rosansky, Nancy Gardner, Rush Hill, Keith Curry, Leslie Daigle, and Tony Petros. What a team we were,” he said.

Then Selich went into the long list of accomplishments of his “Dream Team” over the past years: the city’s AAA credit rating, a rehab home ordinance, the John Wayne Airport Settlement agreement, the Oasis Senior Center, negotiation of the most aggressive employee pension contribution rates in Orange County, acceleration of the payoff of today’s estimate of the City’s unfunded pension liability in 19 years, a full 11 years sooner than required; the lowest crime rate in Newport history and much more.

The list went on and on.

To read Selich’s speech in its entirety, click here.

It was clear to me that Selich was doing more than just reminding people of the monumental accomplishments, and what good stewards the “Dream Team” had been. He was also giving a history lesson directed at Team Newport.

Though Duffield is a long time resident, Peotter, Muldoon and especially Dixon are not.

Then he turned up the heat a little more and discussed the Civic Center/City Hall project.

“People forget that the 2006-2014 City Council voted not to build the City Hall next to the library. However, our voters demanded that it be built there in a park-like setting. Remember the slogan “City Hall in the Park?” he said.

From my table I could see Peotter and Dixon’s faces as Selich spoke about the project.

Peotter maintained what looked like a forced smile, while Dixon looked down and away from Selich continually. I thought she looked uncomfortable.

And rightfully so, I think she could be a star on this council if she can now find a way to distance herself from “Team Newport” and become her own person.

But I felt Selich really nailed it when he said, “The campaign is over. It is time to stop the derisive, cartoonish characterization of the Civic Center and the bunnies and embrace the Civic Center and Park as our cultural and governance center. It is an iconic symbol of our City and will be so recognized for generations to come.”

Those remarks were obviously directed towards Peotter who continues to call city hall the Taj Mahal and makes no apologies about it.

Selich closed the night by saying the state of the city is the best it’s ever been, but believes the council should be open to new ideas and approaches.

Wrapping up his speech, he received rousing applauds and a standing ovation.

Later he told me his talk was “not intended to be a defense of the past City Council actions nor an indictment of the new Council, but merely a statement of where we are and how best to move ahead in positive direction as a team. It was an invitation to the new Council members to continue to work together to make our city a better place.”

There’s an old saying in television: know your audience.

Selich knew exactly who he was talking to that night.

Those in attendance were the who’s who of political insiders in this city. Many have been involved in Newport in one way or another for decades.

Chatter as the room cleared was that Selich hit it out of the park here, and appreciated his strong message — don’t mess with success.