Many of Orange County’s longtime Mayors have termed out in recent years – particularly some of those who also were lobbyists or political consulants, or who otherwise appeared to be self-serving, such as Curt Pringle, in Anaheim, Larry Agran, in Irvine, and Jerry Amante, in Tustin. The newer crop of Mayors who have been elected in the last few years include a few that are turning out to be fantastic Mayors.
I would include in the top tier of today’s Mayors Bruce Whitaker, in Fullerton; Tom Tait, in Anaheim; and Steven Choi, in Irvine. All three of them are reliably conservative but they are also compassionate and are leading by example. They are all Republicans as well – and Whitaker leans Libertarian.
O.C. Mayors who are Democrats include Teresa “Tita” Smith, in Orange; Miguel Pulido, in Santa Ana; Bruce Broadwater, in Garden Grove and Connie Boardman, in Huntington Beach. Boardman and Pulido have made headlines lately due to the controversy over whether or not the local beach fire rings should be banned. Pulido is the last of our “consultant” Mayors. He worked closely for many years with Pringle and Agran – but now he is on his own and he has been fairly neutered by the Santa Ana City Council, which is dominated by more liberal Democrats. Smith and Boardman were elected in cities that are represented in the State Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives by Republicans. I don’t expect much from Broadwater – he is as old guard as they come.
One guy who proved not to be part of the old guard is Tait, in Anaheim. He broke with the Anaheim City Council majority, which is still controlled by Pringle, shortly after his election. Today Tait is immensely popular but the Pringle machine would definitely like to get rid of him. Thankfully Tait is very well-connected and he can personally fund his next campaign with no problem at all.
Other current O.C. Mayors of note include Jim Righeimer, in Costa Mesa; Keith Curry, in Newport Beach, Tri Ta in Westminster, and Mark McCurdy in Fountain Valley. And we should also note Rhonda Reardon, in Mission Viejo, one of Orange County’s very few woman Mayors.
I overlooked Tony Beall, the Mayor of Rancho Santa Margarita, initially until a reader brought him to my attention. In a city with a Mayor elected annually by fellow council members, he is the city’s first three-term Mayor. Beall stood up for the city when Pringle’s protege, Planning Commissioner Peter Whittingham (Councilman Steve Baric’s appointee), criticized the city’s business climate as being worse than El Centro. Whittingham was poised to run for the City Council, even having held a fundraiser. But he backed down, and Beall won re-election by the largest margin in the city’s history, against a challenger supported by Pringle’s cohort, Baric.
There are also a few local Mayors who are on the Board of Directors of the Association of Orange County Cities – a lobbying organization that was formed as an alternative to the California League of Cities. These Mayors include Curry, of Newport Beach; Al Murray, of Tustin; Scott Nelson, of Placentia; and Robert Ming, of Laguna Niguel.
Term limits in the State Legislature have loosened somewhat as members can now serve up to 12 years in either the Assembly or the State Senate, but the churn will continue and some of these Mayors may well end up heading to Sacramento. I would include Righeimer, who has worked hard to overcome negative feelings about him in his city, and Choi, who has run before for the State Assembly.
I am personally relieved to see the consultant type Mayors on the wane in Orange County. We are lucky to have public servants like Whitaker, Tait and Choi in particular.