Newport Beach Councilman Will O’Neill announced Friday that he will spearhead a movement to establish the city’s first ever mayoral election.
Newport Beach has had a rotating mayor system since 1927, when the coastal city shifted from a board of trustees and president to a city council and mayoral governing body.
O’Neill, who served as mayor of Newport Beach from 2019-2020, went on KOCI’s “Poorman’s Morning Rush” to publicize his “Elect Our Mayor” voter initiative, which hopes to change the city’s charter to a directly-elected mayor system.
The current structure of Newport Beach’s city government is a publicly elected, seven-seat city council that votes internally to select the mayor for each and every year. Neighboring city Costa Mesa turned away from that system in 2018, with the first mayoral election in the city’s 65-year history.
“Last year, people would ask me ‘why is that system the way it is?’ and I said it’s because it’s always been that way,” O’Neill said. “Let me just say, that is a really bad reason for having anything related to the government.”
O’Neill explained that to change the system, the city must change their charter, but realistically, that can only be done through a signature-backed ballot measure.
“If I’m taking power away from the city council and to the people of Newport Beach, I’m going to need a lot of help,” he said. “I need to collect over 9,000 signatures in order to put it on the ballot for next year.”
Because of the implications of the petition, O’Neill believes that the people of Newport Beach will not turn down the opportunity to have a stronger say in local politics.
“If we can get it on the ballot, I guarantee you this [initiative] will pass with flying colors,” he said. “It’s a simple question, would you like to elect your mayor? Of course you would like to.”
The former mayor admitted on KOCI that he felt the current system was strange even during his tenure, and that a councilman having a one-in-seven chance of leading the city was much less beneficial to the community than having a politician run with a specific platform in mind for their term.
“I think the people in Newport Beach need to have their voice heard very clearly through the voting process, on the vision that they want to see going forward in our city,” O'Neill said.
The chairman of the campaign anticipates that the petitions should be printed in the next couple of weeks, but as for now, Newport Beach residents can read into the fine print of the initiative on the website electourmayor.com.
The petition is expected to make ballots as early as June 2022, but O’Neill said that the initiative could be voted on as late as November. The election process would not go into effect until 2024, no matter what month it would pass next year.
“I’m going to be submitting the paperwork to change our system so that in 2024, people will be able to vote for their mayor for the first time in the history of Newport Beach,” O’Neill said.