The Bell Curve


June 14, 2001

Last year, I wrote a column about a longshot candidate for the Newport

Beach City Council named John Heffernan. He was running against two

political pros, one of them an incumbent, and his chances seemed roughly

comparable to Dennis Rodman winning the Good Neighbor award.

Heffernan's campaign intrigued me because he was such a rank outsider

(anybody who has died with the California Angels all these years has got

to be attracted to underdogs) but mostly because he was financing his own


campaign. And because he wasn't rich -- proving that not all lawyers are

-- he was spurning such normal accouterments of candidates for public

office these days as political consultants and glossy brochures.

"A candidate," he told me then, "needs to control spending. A

political campaign can't become a house remodel where you get started and

then don't know where to stop."

Well, it all seemed a little quixotic but he won. His victory had a

lot to do with his embrace of the Greenlight measure, which won big, as

well as his two opponents splitting the Good Old Boy vote. And he won in

spite of the fact that he said publicly without blinking that his motive

in running was "public service," an affirmation that his record suggested

was highly credible but that most voters regard with considerable

cynicism. He also won with support, including financial, from the

Greenlight organization.

He's been on public view, now, for the better part of a year, and it

seemed like a good time to find out how he was adjusting to political

life. So I connected with him for breakfast the other day for an update.

And it turned out that political life is having more difficulty adjusting

to him than vice versa.

Part of the reason is that "need to control spending." He says he

keeps asking "where the money is coming from."

"And I feel like I'm talking to myself," he added. "I think

vertically, and the other council members seem to think horizontally. I

look for straight answers, straight facts and instead tend to get

opinions. I think we should have facts before we spend other people's


This sort of radical thinking has, he says, made it difficult to be

pals with his associates on the City Council.

"I would gladly sit down with anyone on the council and settle

differences of opinion with a handshake. So far I haven't had any

takers," he said.

Relations have become testy enough that he says he is "becoming known

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