Wagner for Mayor
“Irvine is one of the most dynamic cities in the state,” Wagner said when announcing his candidacy. “We have a diverse population with fantastic schools, a world-class university, and a bright future. My wife Megan and I have raised our family in this wonderful city and I look forward to helping lead it into the future.”
Don and his wife, Orange County Superior Court Judge-elect Megan Wagner, have lived in Irvine for 25 years. Their three children attended Irvine public schools. Wagner earned his law degree from the prestigious University of California, Hastings College of Law and his B.A. in English from UCLA. As an attorney, he developed expertise in tax law and financial litigation, which he further developed in the public sector.
Wagner has experience serving the citizens of Irvine and Orange County both locally and at the state level in Sacramento. He developed his expertise in education while serving on the South Orange County Community College District Board of Trustees. He was first elected to the board in 1998 and served three terms, including six years as board president. During his tenure on the board of trustees every budget was balanced, with no new taxes or bonds needed.
As a member of the State Assembly for six years, he served on the Education Committee and was co-chair of the UC Caucus, which he founded to support the University of California system in the Legislature. Wagner is considered by many to be an expert on the state budget and taxation, having served on all three legislative fiscal committees. Wagner received Legislator of the Year awards from the California Conference of Bar Associations, the Civil Justice Association of California, the Orange County Republican Party, and the California Association of Collectors.
In a 2015 story on the special State Senate election, the OC Register wrote: “Wagner’s ability to build bridges with Sacramento Democrats as well as Republicans and his willingness to labor over low-profile issues has resulted in successful bills that don’t get much press, but are important to those affected. One such effort by the Irvine attorney helped ease the mandated dissolution of Lake Forest’s redevelopment district. Another helps victims of real estate title scams regain clear possession of their property.”
Wagner is economically conservative, earning near 100 percent ratings for his economic policies and tax-lowering positions serving his district in Sacramento and as an education leader in Irvine. He has a strong moral compass and leads a faith-based life.
Wagner enters the race with a list of strong endorsements including Irvine Congresswoman Mimi Walters; Assemblyman Matthew Harper, also from Irvine; and Irvine Councilwoman Christina Shea, among others. In past elections he’s been favored by police and fire departments, and has earned a reputation for fighting for his constituents who are in need.
Irvine City News believes it’s vital that Irvine voters choose a mayor in November who can keep the city stable, safe and prosperous, while freeing itself from the stale controversies of failed regimes. After decades of Larry Agran’s control of the Irvine city leadership, a new era began with the 2010 election. But echoes of the fractures Agran’s era caused still appear in city government today.
Agran-istas on the march…still
We believe that Wagner’s experience and leadership will help build consensus on the city council. He won’t allow proxy battles lead by Larry Agran and his minions to overshadow the important work of the city. He also won’t spend valuable public time and money settling old scores from the city’s past. Voters have seen how this can lead to gridlock and divisiveness at city hall, impeding progress on issues vital to maintaining and improving the quality of life, public safety and economic vitality that have made Irvine great.
A quick recap of the Agran era and how it still impacts city government can be found in a recent OC Weekly story. The usually left-leaning alternative weekly was one of Agran’s harshest critics and its investigative journalists helped expose his schemes:
“Irvine government officials hoped they could derail a lawsuit filed by a political ally to Larry Agran—the disgraced ex-mayor who sabotaged construction of the Orange County Great Park…”
“Agran…desperately wanted to curtail distribution of the Weekly as retaliation against our coverage of his numerous ethical lapses, including the diversion of tens of millions of dollars in Great Park construction funds to his political operatives.
“Meanwhile, Agran—a failed 1992 Democratic Party presidential primary candidate—and his allies have been trying to win back control over Irvine, which now has a 4-1 majority with Republicans Steven Choi, Christina Shea, Jeff Lalloway and Lynn Schott, and, in opposition, Democrat Beth Krom, who shamelessly supported the diversion of Great Park funds to operatives when her party controlled Irvine.”
Krom has decided not to seek re-election to the city council. Though Irvine City News disagrees with her on many issues, we thank her for her service to the city and its citizens.
Mayor Steven Choi is also moving on from city government. He’s the Republican candidate for assembly in the 68th district that includes Irvine, the same district Wagner served for six years, the limit on terms in the Assembly. Choi was elected to Irvine’s city council in 2004 and re-elected in 2008. In 2012 and 2014, he was elected mayor.
The Rest of the Field
And what of the three other mayoral candidates?
Katherine Daigle is a perennial “also-ran” as a candidate for office. As OCPolitics.com characterized Daigle in a primary election post: “…a two-time failed Irvine mayoral candidate who has been accused of being a proxy for despised former Irvine Councilman Larry Agran.”
In her most recent efforts to win an election, she came in third out of three in the 2016 primary for the 74th district seat in the State Assembly, receiving 18.6 percent of the vote. And in the same election she garnered just 6.2 percent of the vote to join the Republican Central Committee, finishing seventh. Two days after the June election, she reportedly changed the party on her voter registration to “no preference” and is now an Independent. In the 2014 Irvine nonpartisan mayoral race, when she still called herself a Republican, Daigle came in a distant third, with 11.7 percent of the vote.
The first loser of that mayoral race was Mary Ann Gaido, who also got the OCPolitics.com seal of disapproval after the last Irvine city elections: “Longtime Irvine Councilman Larry Agran and his sidekicks Mary Ann Gaido and Melissa Fox tried to fool the voters of Irvine into thinking that the over-development of their community was somehow the fault of the current Irvine City Council majority. Well it didn’t work, in great part, because of the brilliant Agran Audit campaign that gave the people of Irvine access to the OC Great Park Audit information, which was a stunning indictment of Agran’s wasteful ways.”
Gang Chen, despite how annoying and ubiquitous his campaign signs have been throughout the city, has promise as a future public servant. He took a very public stand in favor of the city council considering an alternative site for the Veterans Cemetery in Irvine, with the strong support of the city’s military veterans and the Chinese community. His quixotic quest for a recall of the council afterwards, though entertaining, shows he’s in need of more political experience. We admire Gang’s optimism, fresh ideas and positive outlook. We suggest a role in the city’s Planning Commission, where his experience as an architect and urban planner would be welcome. But the next mayor of Irvine cannot be an amateur.
Mary Ann Gaido is part of the Larry Agran machine and wants to derail Irvine’s status as a 21st century economic wonder, and take the city in an unsustainable direction. Her record also does not match her rhetoric. As a long-time member of the city’s Planning Commission, she has consistently voted to approve the projects she now critiques. In August, she was part of the unanimous vote to approve several smartly designed housing developments in the Irvine Business Complex, which are part of the Vision Plan of mixed-use developments for the IBC, approved unanimously in 2010. The city council at that time included Mayor Sukhee Kang, Mayor Pro Tem Larry Agran and councilwoman Beth Krom holding a 3-member majority, with then-councilman Steven Choi and Councilwoman Christina Shea in the minority.
Since the IBC Vision Plan, and indeed much of the recent and ongoing development in Irvine have already been approved, are subject to legal entitlements, state laws and prior agreements, blanket criticism of growth and planning by candidates who themselves supported it is disingenuous, to say the least. Having been a city council member, a planning commissioner and on the Transportation Commission, Mary Ann Gaido has been part of the plan for growth in Irvine for decades. To suddenly be critical of that growth, without also explaining the realities of city planning, is to be frank, dishonest.
We expect Don Wagner to be a pragmatic and practical mayor, working for the greater good of Irvine. We believe he will have little patience for partisan infighting and juvenile “he said/she said” battles on social media and comment boards.
He will bring decency, decorum and a grown-up and professional attitude to city leadership. Don Wagner is the new, independent leader the city of Irvine needs. We enthusiastically endorse him for mayor.