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The 'outsider' becomes an insider (again)

Civic activist Sandy Genis left the City Council and mayor's chair some 16 years ago. Now she's back.

November 17, 2012|By Bradley Zint
  • Newly elected City Councilwoman Sandy Genis will return to the dais after a 16-year absence. Since then, though, she's been busy as a community activist, particularly against the sale of the Orange County Fairgrounds.
Newly elected City Councilwoman Sandy Genis will return… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

Second in a series of profiles about those in the trenches of Costa Mesa's political battles.

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Over a breakfast plate at IHOP, Sandy Genis laughs easily, and is animated and talkative. She uses her hands to make a point, stress an idea, express amazement or frustration.

Hiring practices of city executives. Choices for the Planning Commission. Scrutiny of the city budget, right down to the Keurig coffee cups. Banning Ranch traffic. Her dogs. Better weather on the Westside — for growing certain plants, that is.

No topic, it seems, is out of bounds.

As the leading vote-getter in the Nov. 6 election with nearly 16,000 votes counted as of Friday, the 59-year-old Mesa Verde resident will soon return to the Costa Mesa City Council and once again will become a decision-maker for the city she's lived in nearly her entire life. She served as a councilwoman from 1988 to 1996, with a two-year stint as mayor.

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Genis' return to the dais this time, though, comes in a political environment where fixing pensions is a hotter topic than repairing potholes. Among the other differences: suspected Republican Party of Orange County influence in the civic dialogue, discord reaching a new zenith and city employees beleaguered by pending layoffs and a lawsuit they filed in hopes of keeping their jobs.

One similarity, however, between the Genis of 1988 and the Genis of 2012 can be explained in a word: outsider.

She campaigned as an outsider then; this year, along with the other two members of her slate, she campaigned as being outside the current council majority, whose tactics as they strive to rein in pension costs and union control are considered difficult but necessary by some and far too abrasive by others.

Genis' views would fall into the latter camp.

"We definitely have to sit down and talk with our employees cooperatively," she says. "Just sitting around and calling them names is probably not going to get us anywhere. I don't want our city to be a stepping-stone city, where people come in, get trained and move on elsewhere."

Genis, though, has never quite been an outsider with regards to being outside her community. Since leaving the Council Chambers 16 years ago, she's managed to stay in the arena in ways big and small, whether through the three-minute allotted time as a speaker during council meetings or as a leader opposing the contentious proposal to sell the Orange County Fairgrounds.

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