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A billionaire mogul with Democratic ties might be the best hope for those who want the GOP-leaning San Diego Union-Tribune to take a turn to the left.

The U-T reported last week that representatives of the investment firm of Ron Burkle — former owner of Ralphs supermarkets, labor-union advocate and friend of Bill Clinton — expressed interest in purchasing the paper and had “received a presentation.”

Burkle, a bag-boy-turned-grocery-magnate, has unsuccessfully tried to buy newspapers before.

Last year, he partnered with the Newspaper Guild — the newspaper industry’s leading union — to try to buy 12 Knight Ridder newspapers.

Also in 2007, he worked with a union to explore a purchase of Dow Jones, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal and made a bid on the Tribune Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times, with another billionaire.

“He’s extremely frugal,” said Bernard Lunzer, president of the Newspaper Guild. “He will get in there and make a bid because he feels it’s a good prospect. If he’s true to form, he won’t overpay. He’s very careful about how he does his bids.”

Burkle doesn’t have a powerful union to work with at the U-T. In a rare move in 1998, employees in the news, advertising, circulation and accounting departments voted to decertify the Newspaper Guild. Only the U-T’s pressroom is unionized now, according to a spokesman.

However, Burkle has a track record of trying to share ownership with employees, Lunzer said “When he gets involved, he wants to share an equity stake with the employees. He wants that involvement of everybody being participants.”

No one knows if Burkle would insist that any paper he owns reflect his political views. But politics are clearly important to him: Burkle is a close friend of Bill Clinton and has raised millions for Democratic causes.

Burkle would certainly be a colorful newspaper owner.

He’s a mainstay of gossip pages and found himself at the center of a scandal in 2006 when a newspaper reporter allegedly tried to extort a bribe from him in exchange for better coverage.

As for local connections, Burkle reportedly owns an oceanfront mansion in La Jolla.

Burkle’s investment firm, Yucaipa Companies, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. In response to a query about Burkle’s interest in the U-T, a spokesman said the paper declined to “comment on business matters such as these.”

— RANDY DOTINGA

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