Former Costa Mesa Mayor Sandra Genis, the most visible opponent to the City Council majority that made national headlines over the past two years with an aggressive outsourcing plan, emerged Tuesday night as the top vote-getter in a contested City Council race.
Genis garnered 17.7 percent of votes cast and maintained a substantial lead over incumbent Councilman Steve Mensinger, who was at 16.1 percent.
Competition for the third slot on the council was tight, with incumbent City Councilman Gary Monahan barely surviving a challenge from John Stephens, who trailed him by only 355 votes.
Costa Mesa voters also rejected the city charter proposal advocated by the council majority by an overwhelming margin of 59.3 percent of ballots cast against Measure V.
The city charter would have lifted state general law requirements that prevailing wages be used for public works projects and also prohibited payroll deductions for union dues of public workers.
In many ways, Tuesday’s election was the first chance for the broader public to weigh in on the controversial City Council majority’s plan to reshape the city through the privatization of public services.
That plan has drawn intense opposition from organized labor groups, who have successfully sued to stop the privatization plan along with community groups who view it as too ideological.
Costa Mesa Councilman Jim Righeimer, who over the past two years has led the City Council majority on its outsourcing plan, said he didn’t see a mandate in the election results but indicated the council majority would change its approach toward a new city charter.
“We clearly heard from the community that we need to put together a committee for the charter,” Righeimer said.
He echoed the most prominent concern over the charter proposed by the council majority — that it didn’t include enough community comment.
“We didn’t think those concerns were legitimate, but the public did,” Righeimer said Tuesday night at a GOP event at the Westin Hotel in Costa Mesa.
Yet others saw a clear message on Tuesday night.
“This is a rejection of Jim Righeimer,” said Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Association that led the effort against Measure V, spending nearly $300,000 against it.
“The people of Costa Mesa took their community back,” Berardino said. “Voters saw through the council majority’s plans on Measure V. … They saw it as a power grab by a few individuals, and they rejected it.”
Mensinger, who was the top individual fundraiser with more than $80,000 for his campaign, was visibly irritated at following Genis as the top vote-getter.
Yet he indicated he could work with Genis and echoed Righeimer’s sentiment that the council majority would resume work immediately to restart the charter discussion.
“We’ll form a committee tomorrow,” Mensinger said.
Mensinger agreed with Righeimer that the election results could not be seen as a mandate, given that he had won reelection and that other challengers had not beaten incumbents.
Both Mensinger and Righeimer said they looked forward to working with Genis and hinted that there might be opportunities to avoid the tension of the past two years.
“The community wants change and solutions, not more rhetoric,” Mensinger said.
Berardino agreed, indicating that there might be a chance to reset the clock given the election results.
“Set aside the ideological agendas. That’s clearly the message from voters,” Berardino said. “This is a city that has been under national scrutiny for two years, and the voters are telling both sides to get back on track and work together.”