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Fair Game

By TOM JOHNSON

Walter Stahr adds to his Lincoln Club message voiced against Elect Our Mayor

Fair Game Toms new headshotThe Elect Our Mayor charter amendment appears to be the biggest issue in Newport Beach politics, perhaps ever. The attempt to advance the amendment was in the midst of a somewhat difficult signature gathering effort when the City Council took it upon themselves last October to circumvent the process and vote 4-3 to just put it on the June ballot for local voters to decide.

All along the way the issue has been controversial. Some say it’s the solution to a problem that never was. Others say it gives Newport Beach voters the opportunity to directly elect their mayor, a process presently handled by the fellow councilmembers, and gives that someone, in essence, the power to control local agendas and to push back on state and federal government mandates. 

The naysayers say it’s potentially too much power, for too long a period of time for one candidate.

If the amendment passes, Newport Beach would elect their mayor in 2024 to a term of four years, with the possibility of another term four years later.

Last issue I wrote about charter amendment author/City Councilman Will O’Neill having his efforts rejected by the Lincoln Club; first by their Legislative Committee, then their Executive Committee and finally by their Board of Directors.

As O’Neill made the case for why it should be adopted, Newport Beach resident Walter Stahr made the case against.

I pointed out that Stahr’s major concern was that the system could allow for an unwanted candidate to possibly sneak in and grab the office, particularly if a number of candidates ran, thus watering down the number of votes needed to win.

Stahr wrote me this week correcting my comment:

“Thanks for mentioning the charter change in your latest issue. Will O’Neill and I did discuss the question at the Lincoln Club, but I would not say that my “main” point was that it might result in the election of a liberal mayor.

“My main concern is that the charter change would give too much power to the mayor. The mayor would be elected for at least a four-year term, perhaps elected for a second such term. The mayor would have essentially complete control over the city council agenda. The city staff would answer to the mayor, not, as at present, to the whole city council. Within the city, the mayor would be more powerful than any other mayor in Orange County.

“The charter change would essentially gut the term limit system in Newport Beach. One person could serve eight years on the city council and then another eight years as mayor. Sixteen years is too long for one person to be in power.

“I am not opposed to democracy: far from it. But the present Newport Beach system, in which the mayor is selected from among the councilmembers, by the councilmembers, for one year, works well. The present system is similar to that of many other cities and governments, such as the county itself, where the supervisors choose their chair. There is no problem that needs to be fixed by this ill-advised change.

“I disagree with Mr. O’Neill’s suggestion that the Lincoln Club was wasting its time in considering this issue. This is the most important change in decades to the structure of our city government. So, it was right for the Lincoln Club to consider this issue, and I am glad they agree that this charter change does not make any sense.”

It was signed by Walter Stahr.

And, you might be asking yourself, well who is Walter Stahr?

Good question, he’s a graduate of Stanford University, then Harvard Law School, a multi-decade lawyer and an accomplished author of biographies on American leaders, including John Jay, William Henry Seward and Edwin Stanton.

Thus, we find ourselves in an extremely interesting time in Newport Beach politics, including issues other than Elect Our Mayor. For example, there still seems to be a strong concern over the remaining remnants of Team Newport enforcing their politics with little regard for the citizen’s voice.

Obviously, the election of Noah Blom to Mayor Pro Tem would seem to fit this bill. Now there’s a lingering concern of an unsubstantiated ploy to alter councilmanic district boundaries as they’re finalized, that could potentially force a previously announced candidate to the sidelines and that would take a base of supporters away from another sitting councilperson.

That last issue will play out over the course of the next month as council will discuss those district boundaries and the associated maps in a February 8 Study Session, before voting to finalize on February 22.

Meanwhile, we’re facing a November election where several of the previously associated councilmembers of Team Newport will be termed-out, with a new batch of candidates waiting in the wings.

Now’s not the time for residents to take their eyes off of local politics, no matter what side of the issue you’re on.

• • •

Two years ago, tomorrow, was that fateful day that saw the helicopter crash into a fog-covered mountainside, killing Kobe Bryant and eight others, including daughter Gianna

The Bryants and the fellow passengers were on their way to a youth basketball tournament in Calabasas.

The others with strong Newport Beach connections that were lost that day included the Altobelli family, John, Keri and daughter, Alyssa; Sarah Chester and daughter Payton; and Christina Mauser.

They all impacted our community so favorably and are truly missed. 

• • •

The always outstanding Witte Lecture Series is the latest casualty of Omicron. Fortunately, this will only result in a slight delay.

Ezra Klein, New York Times columnist and host of The Ezra Klein Show podcast, was set to appear this Friday and Saturday, Jan. 28 & 29, and that has been pushed back until Friday and Saturday, April 29 & 30. Topic: American Varieties: Reflecting on Democracy.

Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr., a New York Times bestselling author and chair of Princeton’s Department of African American Studies, who was scheduled to speak on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 11 & 12, will now appear on Friday and Saturday, April 22 & 23. Topic: Race and Democracy: America is Always Changing, But America Never Changes.

If that presents an issue for current ticket holders or if you’re interested in perhaps purchasing tickets to the new dates, you may contact the Library Foundation at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..