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Thursday, May 29, 2008 | I was wondering when the Chargers might become a campaign issue. Looks like it happened.

The Union-Tribune reported Wednesday that the Chargers were incensed that Mayor Jerry Sanders and his re-election campaign would tie the Chargers’ owners to his rival, Steve Francis.

Ironic that they’d so angrily criticize the mayor in order to communicate that they don’t not like him.

“You jerk, we totally don’t not like you.”

The Chargers are, they say, neutral in the election — fiercely neutral, actually.

What caused the emphatic denial?

From the U-T:

“The source of the tiff is a phone-bank message that team officials say implies they support Francis. Voters are told that Francis courted special interests as finance chairman of the state Republican Party — including Chargers owner Alex Spanos.”

The train of thought was simple. The phone bank message said Francis was in charge of raising money from people like the Spanos family. It was a negative implication. And the Chargers took offense, it seems, that taking money from Spanos could be considered a negative thing —especially given the fact that Sanders’ own supporters had tried to get Spanos to contribute to the mayor’s campaign efforts.

Sanders’ campaign consultant, Tom Shepard, answered the criticism and said he’d stopped the calls.

But the Chargers were angry. They are fiercely neutral, they insist.

Like the team’s owners, Chargers Voters — the ones who might identify the need for a new stadium as a key determiner — have largely stayed neutral in the race. Neither the talking heads nor the fans have seemed to pick a preferred mayoral or city attorney candidate.

Regardless, it’d be hard to say that the Chargers’ preferred candidate is Sanders. Remember, the Chargers have been at odds with Shepard and Sanders for a while now. Shepard suggested, in a guest blogging appearance here nearly two years ago, that the Chargers’ were doing an elaborate dance out of town.

Refresh your memory on that one, it was a pretty provocative claim.

In addition, Chargers’ boosters have been upset about this for a long time. They’ve never liked Fred Sainz, the mayor’s advisor and spokesman.

The Fans, Taxpayers and Business Alliance, whose goal is to replace Qualcomm Stadium in a “fiscally responsible manner” sent out an e-mail letting us know exactly how they felt about the mayor’s team:

“These are the same deceptive political hacks that worked in the Golding administration who conducted themselves in the same way during the 90s. It is not about what is right for San Diego, it is all about their view of life, which only extends to getting their candidate elected, no matter what nefarious behavior it takes.”

Anyway, the hostility between the Chargers and the people who have the mayor’s ear is pretty well documented. Perhaps it’s just an elaborate show. Have the Chargers have become so toxic in local elections that it’s better to have them act like they hate you then to be friends with them?

But that would be some pretty clever thinking for this town.

So what does Francis think about the Chargers?

In his vast report on what he would do as mayor, I could only find this passage (emphasis mine):

“The Chargers are valued members of our community, uniting city residents of all backgrounds, and bringing in millions of dollars in sales tax revenue each year. Local leaders must do all they can in today’s fiscally challenging times to explore new opportunities to keep the Chargers in San Diego. San Diego sports fans deserve a mayor who cares about the future of professional sports in their community, and will work hard to identify county, state, and federal incentives to retain them.

Neither of the two major candidates seems very willing to say anything of much substance on the issue.

Tuesday night, I moderated a debate between the four candidates for City Council District 7. I asked what level of subsidy, if any, the candidates would support to help the Chargers build a new stadium.

Both Marti Emerald and April Boling positively, without a doubt, ruled out support for any subsidy at all for a new stadium. They both said they would not be willing to even give the Chargers city land on which to build some kind of development — the profits of which would pay for a stadium.

It was that unequivocal. So if you are reading this in the future, if you’ve found this in an archive search, yes, if either of these two people is a council member, and they’ve supported some kind of subsidy for the Chargers, yes, they changed their mind.

For the record, Bill Daniel, a rather conservative candidate for the seat, said he would support giving the Chargers as much money as they might need to build a new stadium. When I asked how that squared with his unflinching fiscal conservatism on other issues, he said he supported investments that had a positive return, and investing in the Chargers would pay infinite dividends.

David Tos, the police officer also running for the District 7 post, said he too would spend and do whatever it takes to keep the Chargers in the city — not the county — of San Diego.

And he got by far the most rousing applause from the Fox Canyon audience.

If any of you have statements from the candidates that put them on the record one way or another about supporting the Chargers’ bid for a new stadium, let me have them. The more precise their potential level of support, the better.

Please contact Scott Lewis (scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org) directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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