Dave Sullivan is running for Huntington Beach City Council. (SCOTT SMELTZER, HB Independent / October 16, 2012)

He'd rather be playing senior softball.

But at 75, Dave Sullivan says he instead wants to help Huntington Beach thrive, and it's why he's running for City Council for the fourth time.

The more-than-four-decade resident is worried about the city's fiscal state and says his most important mission, should he be elected, is to help fix pensions.

Though he spent 12 years on the council — from 1992 to 2000 and from 2002 to 2006 — Sullivan said he was always on the losing end when it came to pension spending.

"I have the feeling now that the public really understands this, and I'm hoping there will be a four-person majority on the council that will actually deal with this," he said. "If it's not done, it'll have horrendous consequences for the city and the most basic things are going to have to be cut back on."

For Sullivan, it's not going to happen through a fight or a contentious public match between the employee groups and the council, but rather by coming together as one in Surf City's interest.

"I have great respect for the employees," Sullivan said. "They do an outstanding job for the city, so I do not want it to be adversarial."

Although the city is already working toward getting employees to contribute more toward retirement benefits and establishing a two-tier system, Sullivan said it can't happen over time; it has to happen now. He added that the city's obligation is in the millions and only getting higher.

Sullivan said his experience on the council, especially during the time when the county filed for bankruptcy, and his more than 30 years running his own orthodontic business, give him what is needed to turn around the city's financial state.

"To me, it's really no different than a family budget," he said. "When times are difficult, you take care of the essentials, and you have to cut back on the nonessentials during that time."

He's a staunch critic of the property tax collected to pay a portion of public safety employees' retirement benefits and is hoping Measure Z passes to overturn it.

The senior center comes in at a close second. Sullivan, who serves on the Orange County Senior Citizens Advisory Council, has worked to advance the interest of seniors in the city and county and hopes to bring the senior center in Central Park — a divisive issue in Huntington Beach — to life.

"Without a doubt, Huntington Beach has the best senior services in the entire county for their citizens, and the irony is that they're in the worst, most inadequate facility in the county," Sullivan said. "And that's unfair for them, and it's below us not to do something about it.

"They're the people that built this city and saved the country in World War II," he said. "We should show our gratitude to them in their golden years. They were there for us. We should be there for them."

When it comes to other divisive issues in the city, such as Mayor Don Hansen's attempt to outsource the city attorney's office, Sullivan said he believes city employees do the best work for Huntington Beach but goes back to pensions, saying that solving their financial crunch is key to maintaining city staff.

Although he is supportive of the sale of "safe and sane" fireworks in the city and says nonprofit groups are benefiting from it, he wants the trial period to determine how the city will proceed. If their availability further strains public safety resources or causes fires, he'll vote against them.

His criticism of the over-saturation of alcohol licenses has landed him the endorsement of the Huntington Beach Downtown Residents Assn., and the HB Neighbors, which fight alcohol licenses and increased traffic in downtown.

Downtown Residents Assn. President Kim Kramer said in an email that Sullivan is the best candidate, not only because he's concerned about downtown, but also because he cares about the preservation of the city's historic and cultural resources.

"Former Mayor Dave Sullivan has demonstrated great integrity and personal character during his service to our city," Kramer said. "He was elected, reelected, reelected again and will now be elected for yet another term. He has earned the trust and confidence of the community."

Sullivan has also landed the endorsements of local and state officials, including Sen. Tom Harman and former Mayors Shirley Dettloff and Ralph Bauer, among others.

"I really feel this is a critical, serious time for the city," Sullivan said. "I'd rather be playing senior softball, but I feel an obligation to come back and be part of the solution for the problem."

mona.shadia@latimes.com

Twitter: @MonaShadia