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Letters From the Editor: 2014's Feet to the Fire Forum series should sizzle

February 21, 2014|By John Canalis

When Orange County Register columnist Barbara Venezia and I met four years ago at the Balboa Yacht Club, we began an unlikely friendship.

I say unlikely because we worked for competing papers. And she, to put it mildly, was as outgoing as her red hair and forward fashion sense would suggest. I was more reserved behind my glasses and button downs.

Nevertheless, we shared a passion for newspapering, politics and the twin cities of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. One of the most important outgrowths of that friendship was the Feet to the Fire Forum, a series of candidate debates we started that were often compelling, occasionally boring and at times a little bizarre (but always interesting and well-attended).

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Our improvised format — no canned introductions, no questions on little blue cards and a relaxed seating arrangement in the style of "Meet the Press" — seemed new to Orange County politics. We assembled a great team — Voice of OC Editor Norberto Santana Jr., Register columnist Jack Wu, former Register community editor Roger Bloom, and former Register columnist Frank Mickadeit.

Those guys, as well as visiting panelist Tom Johnson, a former Daily Pilot publisher, did a great job for the voters by asking pointed questions and sparring with the candidates.

I think we met our goals of giving the public a candid view of the people running for office and providing substantive, spirited public debate for the live audience and those watching at home. That's why, I am proud to say, we are planning a series of debates for the 2014 election season. Frank has left journalism to practice law, but the rest of us are prepping for the upcoming Feet to the Fire Forums.

Throughout 2014, our panel is going to meet with candidates for the Costa Mesa and Newport Beach city councils, state Assembly and the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Each race is a good one.

The Costa Mesa forum should sizzle. Mayor Jim Righeimer is up for reelection, and there are candidates, including former Councilwoman Katrina Foley, who want to either join or challenge his council majority. Voters could elect a Latino, Lee Ramos, for the first time in city history. Candidate Tony Capitelli, who works in the Huntington Beach district office for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, has politics in his family; he's the son-in-law of Newport Councilman Keith Curry.

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