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Mayor asks blogger to apologize for Hitler reference

Local GovernmentFreedom of the PressPassoverWikimedia Foundation, Inc.The Holocaust (1934-1945)

Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer during Tuesday's council meeting demanded an apology from a local blogger who posted online comments comparing the way he runs the city to Adolf Hitler.

Eastside resident Geoff West alluded to the Nazi dictator in an April 11 Facebook posting about the operating structure of the Preserve Our Neighborhoods Task Force. Righeimer recently created the citizens group to examine complex legal issues associated with problematic rehabilitation homes in the city.

"This is how they roll," West wrote, responding to a friend's Facebook post. "Create a 'task force' — no open-meeting law compliance required — then meet in secret and hatch (pun intended) plans to focus 'enforcement' on specific types of groups. 75 years ago this is what another strutting dictator did in Germany. 'Transparency' seems to be a one-way mirror [for] these guys!"

Righeimer read most of West's comments aloud from the council dais during Tuesday's meeting, calling the missive "beyond the pale."

"I've got a wife, I've got a family, I've got people that I work with, and to have that happen is absolutely outrageous," he said.

West told the Daily Pilot on Wednesday that the mayor should not expect contrition.

"I won't give an apology," West said. "I'm not apologizing for calling him a dictator, because that's how he acts."

West's comment was in response to a posting that criticized the Preserve Our Neighborhoods Task Force, particularly how the small group is not legally required to meet in public. It is one of three task forces in Costa Mesa that are not required to comply with the state's open-meeting laws.

Righeimer, who said he saw the comments only after someone sent them to him, was indignant at being compared to "someone who murdered 6 million Jews. I don't think I live in that community. I don't think people in this community think that way."

He added, "As a kid growing up, you get beat up for a German name. You kinda take it. But this is a man who the Daily Pilot says he's the 19th most important man in this community. This is a man who the OC Weekly said his blog was the best."

The Pilot's annual "DP 103" list of newsmakers for 2013 called West's blog "uncompromising and sharply opinionated." Righeimer was also on the 2013 list, in the No. 4 spot, and placed No. 1 in 2010 and 2011. The OC Weekly named West's "A Bubbling Cauldron" the best blog in 2008.

Righeimer also asked for apologies from the four people who "liked" West's comment on Facebook, one of whom was Charter Committee member Mary Ann O'Connell.

"The mayor made assumptions as to my intentions or thinking in hitting the 'Like' button," O'Connell told the Pilot on Wednesday. "I do not intend to apologize for his preconceived notions."

West, in the interview, said Righeimer actually owes an apology to O'Connell and the three other people the mayor "maligned" for liking the Facebook comment.

During the meeting, Councilwoman Wendy Leece responded that she felt "sorry that the mayor was offended. That's not for me to defend or not defend. But it is free speech, and it is freedom of the press."

She added that she was ridiculed during her time on the Newport-Mesa Unified School District's board.

"You know, it's not the end of the world," Leece said, "but when you are elected, that's part of what you sign up for."

In order to get it "clear for the record," Righeimer interjected, addressing Leece, "you're saying that being compared to Adolf Hitler is fine? It's just freedom of speech? It just goes with the job?"

Leece, who is termed out and running for Congress this June, did not respond to Righeimer's inquiry.

In a follow-up interview, Righeimer said Leece's "silence speaks volumes about what she thinks. She had a chance to clear up the record, and she refused it."

During the meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, a Righeimer ally, said, "There's a lot of disgusting things that get said out there. Some of it is in public discourse, and some of it is in the heat of emotion, but it's inappropriate and, in a way, not surprising."

In a follow-up interview, Mensinger called West's words "a bizarre thing to say, especially during Passover."

Though not a witness to Tuesday night's events, a local rabbi urged caution in drawing comparisons to the architect of the Holocaust.

Senior Rabbi Gersh Zylberman of Newport Beach's Temple Bat Yahm said anyone who is "quick to use the Hitler analogy diminishes the gravity of what Hitler did."

"We should reserve that comparison for all but the most egregious types of people out there who use hate and power and violence to control others," Zylberman said.

*

West publishes a response

Around 3 a.m. Wednesday, on "A Bubbling Cauldron," West wrote that Righeimer "absolutely flipped out and used the power and authority of his bully pulpit" to call him out by name.

West added that Benito Mussolini might be "a better comparison" than Hitler. He cited a Wikipedia page about the Italian dictator's "secret police" and "outlawing labor strikes."

"What do you think?" West wrote. "'Secret police' — maybe that fifth floor code enforcement group that does [Righeimer's] personal bidding? 'Outlawing labor strikes' — sounds like the kind of relationship Righeimer has established with our labor organizations, doesn't it?"

Righeimer said in a follow-up interview that West is a part of a "fringe group" in Costa Mesa that's opposed to the council's changes.

"Instead of just apologizing, West just doubles down," Righeimer said. "He goes through the atrocities of Mussolini ... it shows the level of complete disregard that this group has for someone who killed 6 million Jews. Complete disregard for that."

"A Bubbling Cauldron" features frequent criticism of the mayor and the council majority, who support his views. The site is also largely supportive of police and city employees, who have been at odds with the mayor's calls to reform public employee pensions and compensation.

"West's blog is an attack on this council daily," Righeimer said. "There's no truth in it. He continues to lie about the council."

West indicated that the dust-up would merely drive more online traffic to his site.

"It's ironic that by making such a big deal of this.Hhe's giving my blog more publicity than I could've gotten in a long time," he said. "I'm going to be really interested to see what happens with the hits on my blog today."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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