"I helped Reagan write the veto messages for collective bargaining of public employees," said architect Rush Hill, who is running for the District 3 council seat, which represents the west side of Upper Newport Bay. He served in Ronald Reagan's California gubernatorial administration in the 1970s.
Hill was responding to a question about controlling the city's ballooning pension obligations.
Ed Reno, an executive at the giant drug maker Allergan, implied he would be tougher on unions when he pointed out that the Republican Party had endorsed him instead of Hill.
Ultimately, both candidates said that they would challenge the current public pension system and proposed measures like raising the retirement age.
Both men also played up their ties to Newport Beach — Reno said that he was a third-generation resident but an underdog because of Hill's connection with city power brokers.
Hill said that he has been endorsed by dozens of local leaders, including past mayors and locals concerned about John Wayne Airport's impact on residents.
When the airport's agreement with the city is renegotiated in 2015, Reno said his Washington and Sacramento lobbying connections would be more useful.
The City Council has already begun to prepare for those negotiations, said Leslie Daigle, the incumbent for District 4, which includes the neighborhoods of Eastbluff and Santa Ana Heights.
She pointed to an air quality study underway that she thought would help the city make its case for tight flight restrictions.
Her challenger, Mark Tabbert, an environmentalist and financial adviser, had the most novel idea of the night: He suggested that residents boycott the airport to show their economic power in advance of the agreement's 2015 expiration.
"I think a targeted boycott makes some sense," he said. The crowd grumbled.
Daigle said the council had balanced budgets and acted conservatively during these tight times, and that she and other members had protected the city's water quality.
"[We are] vigilant stewards of our special natural gifts," she said.
While environmentalism has been Tabbert's stated goal in the past, he tried to downplay it Wednesday.
"Every global issue is a local issue," he said.