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Union ad targets Costa Mesa mayor

Orange County Employees Assn. airs spot that showcases Gary Monahan at his bar on St. Patrick's Day instead of at City Hall after suicide.

March 29, 2011|By Joseph Serna, joseph.serna@latimes.com

COSTA MESA— Election season may be over but a group of Costa Mesa residents and the county employee union have set their sights on the city's mayor by airing a critical ad on local TV and online.

In the one-minute spot, paid for by the Orange County Employees Assn., somber music leads into audio and video clips of Mayor Gary Monahan on St. Patrick's Day. While other City Council members, residents and employees gathered at City Hall after Huy Pham jumped to his death, Monahan remained at the Irish bar he owns while news crews captured him on camera.

"It's outrageous they're taking advantage of a tragedy to push a political agenda," Monahan said. "It's typical union politics. You can't argue the facts, so they do personal attacks, and I won't have any part of it."

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Those who had a hand in challenging the mayor and the council majority denied that they were using Pham's death to political advantage.

"A lot of residents, everyone of all political persuasions, we're concerned with what is happening in the city," said Greg Ridge, a longtime resident active in city politics. "We're not trying to politicize Huy Pham, but this was a direct result of the layoffs."

The "facts" to which Monahan refers are estimates that show rising pension costs over the next five years in Costa Mesa. The estimates led to the council earlier this month issuing notices to more than 200 city workers that their job could be outsourced in six months.

City employees and some residents have argued that the calculations on which the estimates are based are inaccurate and that the council's action reflected conservative ideology that favors privatization over actual financial need.

In the days after Pham's death, residents could be seen gathering at his memorial on the east side of City Hall. That's where this group of residents, calling itself Repair Costa Mesa, was born.

"Basically we start talking to each other at City Hall, sitting there with a candle," said former mayor Sandy Genis. "You know how it takes someone to say 'OK, let's get together here on this date.'"

Members say Repair Costa Mesa's ideologies are disparate, except when it comes to criticizing the City Council's decision to outsource city services.

"I was talking to someone who's a screaming Tea Party birther, and I'm a bleeding heart liberal, and we're in agreement on this," said Ridge. "I've never seen such lockstep."

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