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Wednesday, June 29, 2005 | Several spouses of candidates in the mayoral election possess public and professional records, and are practically as distinguished as the candidates themselves.
Gayle Francis, wife of candidate Steve Francis, is the co-founder with her husband of AMN Healthcare Services Inc., today the nation’s largest provider of traveling nurses. Skip Frye, husband of candidate Donna Frye, has been famous for decades in San Diego in the sport – and business – of surfing. Rana Sampson, wife of candidate Jerry Sanders, is at least as well-known nationally in law enforcement as he is, and once was an NYPD undercover narc. Diann Shipione Shea, wife of candidate Pat Shea, could be credited with setting this entire summer election exercise under way, when she “blew the whistle” on city pension board maneuvering that created the key issue in this race.
Voice of San Diego today begins a series of profiles of these spouses and their foreground and background roles as they accompany the candidates through the campaign.
There is an old saying that a husband and wife, if they want to stay married, should never be partners at a bridge table.
Then can a husband and wife, whose expertise is not bridge but finance and public service, survive as partners against San Diego’s pension fund mess?
No doubt in Diann Shipione Shea’s mind.
“The structural financial problems are the driving issue for the city,” Shipione Shea said, “and we both bring some expertise to this very problem.”
“We” is Shipione Shea and her husband, Pat Shea, who is on the ballot in the July 26 special election to succeed outgoing San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy, with the pension fund scandal the main issue.
Shipione Shea is credited with making the pension fund business an issue, with her revelations in official meetings, and to the media, of the notorious “underfunding” of the pension fund.
“Pat has been, and is, completely supportive of my efforts on the pension mess,” she said. “He is glad to give me any role I want, and will pile on whatever else I can carry. He is like that. A good delegator of projects to competent people, follows their advice and supports them for random criticism.”
“I go by Shipione Shea,” she said, though in media coverage over the last several years, she has been identified as “Diann Shipione.”
The unusual “Diann” spelling? It relates to her unusual, and romantic, birthplace.
“My father worked for a U.S. company that built bridges after World War II,” she said, “during which time my parents were living in Casablanca, Morocco. My mother liked the French name Dion. My father preferred Diane. They compromised.”
The computer business brought her from Colorado to San Diego in 1984.
“A computer company started by some friends of mine in Boulder was relocated to San Diego after being purchased by some San Diego investors,” she said. “They offered me a job and I took them up on it.”
She entered the financial world in 1986 on the inspiration of her dear friend and mentor – her dad.
“My father began working for Merrill Lynch in 1959 at a time when there were no female stockbrokers,” she said. “In 1986, I decided to follow in his footsteps. He was my mentor, best friend and biggest fan.”
In the last 20 years, she has worked for Merrill, and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, and finally UBS Financial Services, where she is a vice president of investments in the La Jolla office.
She was a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley when, in 1991, in the elevator in her building, she ran into a guy. No, the guy.
“Pat was a partner in Pillsbury Winthrop, in the same building,” she said. “I had been married before and had been dating. I had not found the right person. I was carrying a recently published book, ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.’ This man on the elevator said he read the book and liked it so I invited him to have lunch in a couple of days. It all moved pretty fast after that. But I knew Pat was the guy when I met him on the elevator.”
Pat had a daughter, Kelly, who is now a senior at George Washington University.
“Pat’s been a great dad, and Kelly’s been a great daughter,” said Shipione Shea. “She knows we believe in public service and I think she’s very proud of Pat throwing his hat in the ring.”
Pat Shea’s experience in public service includes the 1994 Orange County bankruptcy case, where a federal court appointed him to represent 215 agencies affected by the crisis. In appearances in San Diego’s mayoral race, he has compared that situation to the present deficit in San Diego’s pension fund, which is at the heart of the race.
Shipione Shea, of course, was the pension board member who brought board underfunding practices into public light, where the growing deficit slowly started to make news. She declined a comparison, as that news was recently breaking, to the Watergate scandal’s “Deep Throat.”
“I shy away form ‘whistleblower,’ though that is what I am most often called,” she said. “Unlike Mark Felt (Watergate’s “Deep Throat”), my warnings were anything but secreted or quiet.”
She said she first sought to work within the system, warning the Retirement Board, then the mayor and city council. She said she was “amazed” by the lack of response from public officials to what she called “despicable behavior.”
“Sometimes I felt like Garrett Morris from ‘Saturday Night Live’ when he would do his ‘News for the Deaf’ shtick by yelling into the microphone,” she said. “No matter how I turned up the volume, or how often I warned, the stonewall was always sufficiently buttressed to blunt the message. This San Diego is a funny place that way.”
Because she was a player in the mayoral race’s main issue, and has acquired a lengthy professional and public service résumé of her own, when it comes to the conduct of her husband’s campaign, and political decisions made, does she sometimes feel compelled to sit on her hands?
“Do I seem like someone who sits on her hands?” she said.
Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at