Lobdell: Reagan statue belongs on private property

February 21, 2011|By William Lobdell

"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government, and I'm here to help.'"

— President Ronald Reagan

I imagine Ronald Reagan would have had a chuckle over the government fumbling in Newport Beach over erecting a statue of him, the 40th president of the United States.

Here's hoping the City Council puts the controversy out of its misery Tuesday night by suggesting that any Reagan tribute — which has proven to be wildly divisive even more than two decades after he left office — should be a function of the private sector, including its placement on private property.


This would stop the blundering that began in January when the council ignored its own guidelines, which mandated the matter be put before the Arts Commission, and quietly voted to privately commission a statue of Reagan for placement in a city park as a way to celebrate the president's 100th birthday.

Councilman Keith Curry lobbied to put the larger-than-life bronze at the new Civic Center in Newport Center.

By blowing past the commission, Curry was able to pick his own artist, Stan Watts. It turns out that Watts, a Utah resident, has little to no formal training, a résumé of mediocre works and controversy in his past, according to online reports.

For instance, his truly awful "To Lift a Nation" monument in Emmitsburg, Md., which depicts the Sept. 11 firefighters who were at Ground Zero, was funded by an alleged con artist who — according to federal authorities — was operating a Ponzi scheme and needed a tax write-off for part of his ill-gotten gain estimated at $30 million. According to published reports, Watts received $300,000 from the alleged con man, but denied knowing that the money was tainted.

If the council had followed its own rules, the request for a Reagan statue would have gone to the Arts Commission, which would have solicited proposals from artists across the country. But the commissioners wouldn't have had to go far to find a more talented sculptor than Watts.

Miriam Baker is one. She lives on Balboa Island, and her bust of Elie Wiesel sits on the National Portrait Gallery in the Smithsonian. She also has four sculptures in the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in North Hollywood, and 20 at Chapman University in Orange, including one of a smiling Reagan wearing his Stetson.

Daily Pilot Articles Daily Pilot Articles