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U-T San Diego publisher Doug Manchester fielded a tough question at a San Diego State University breakfast gathering last week: “What can San Diego do to increase its competitiveness and attract higher-paying jobs?”
Manchester didn’t hesitate.
“Elect Carl DeMaio, for one,” he said.
The relationship between Manchester, his newspaper and the Republican mayoral candidate has become one of the dominant themes of the election. The U-T ran two front-page editorials backing DeMaio in the primary. DeMaio’s opponent, Bob Filner, invokes Manchester so much on the trail that it would be easy to believe Manchester is the candidate, not DeMaio. Media outlets, including the U-T itself, have documented the connection between DeMaio and Manchester and its impact on the election.
Here’s an overview of DeMaio and Manchester’s relationship and how it’s played out during the campaign.
DeMaio and Manchester go back almost to the time the candidate arrived in the city a decade ago.
Aside from DeMaio himself, Manchester was the top funder for DeMaio’s first major forays into city political campaigns in 2004: ballot measures, including one to support a strong mayor system and oppose a hotel-room tax increase. At the time, John Lynch, now Manchester’s deputy at the U-T, was a radio executive and donated airtime to DeMaio’s efforts.
When DeMaio announced he was running for City Council in 2007, Manchester held a fundraiser for him at his home. Manchester, his wife and Lynch all donated the maximum amount to DeMaio’s campaign.
Prior to the mayor’s race, Manchester, his wife and Lynch donated almost $200,000 to DeMaio’s council campaign and political action committees, according to campaign finance reports. (Manchester’s now legally separated from his wife.)
Manchester hasn’t given any direct contributions to DeMaio in the mayor’s race. But he has given to local groups that support DeMaio.
Manchester and his company have donated $130,000 to the local Republican Party and $50,000 to the Lincoln Club of San Diego County, a conservative business organization. That’s about equal to 20 percent of the $850,000 the party and the Lincoln Club have spent supporting DeMaio’s mayoral candidacy so far. The wife of an executive at Manchester’s company also donated $25,000 to a pro-DeMaio political action committee.
Manchester made his name and a large part of his fortune more than two decades ago developing mega hotels next to the San Diego Convention Center. He sold the Manchester Grand Hyatt, the tallest waterfront hotel on the West Coast, for $570 million last year.
Now he has two major projects on the table in the city.
Navy Broadway Complex
This project benefits Manchester directly, and it is one DeMaio supports.
Manchester has a deal with the Navy to build a new Navy headquarters on San Diego Bay and develop the land around it into hotels, offices and retail. DeMaio backs the effort so strongly that it’s a major feature in his economic development plan. DeMaio contends the project will bring jobs and help cement the city’s relationship with the military.
“With the successful build-out of the Navy headquarters, the city will be sending a strong message to Washington that we value the military in San Diego and the defense contractors that have facilities here,” DeMaio writes in his plan.
The project won a court victory over environmentalists and open space activists last week, but faces a fight with the California Coastal Commission for regulatory approval. Manchester’s consultant on Navy Broadway has said the developer still needs financial partners before construction begins.
New Chargers Stadium at Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal
Manchester made his boldest move during the year he’s owned U-T San Diego when he printed a front-page, full-color editorial in January calling for a new Chargers stadium and related waterfront development at the Unified Port of San Diego’s Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal.
Manchester called the development the paper’s No. 1 priority. (Unlike Navy Broadway, Manchester doesn’t have a direct financial stake in the project. KPBS has reported, however, that he has millions of shares in the parent company that owns a nearby hotel.)
DeMaio opposes the stadium project, saying that the terminal should remain a deep water port and continue to bring in Dole bananas, wind turbines and other cargo.
The U-T’s proposal has been the source of major headaches for DeMaio during the campaign. Lynch, the U-T’s CEO, wrote in an email to a port commissioner that he’s made “significant progress” in promoting the plan with “one of the mayoral candidates.” DeMaio has denied his support for the project repeatedly and eventually distanced himself from Lynch.
“The U-T CEO mentioned that he got support from labor, and yet labor has not supported it, that he got support from business groups, but very few groups that are out there have supported the plan,” DeMaio said during a debate earlier this month. “And so I just think that the email probably was making some claims that are not grounded in reality.”
During that debate, DeMaio also misrepresented how often he’s met with Manchester and Lynch during the campaign. DeMaio said that he had taken “a meeting” with the U-T’s editorial board. But his private calendar, later obtained by KPBS, revealed two additional meetings with Manchester.
DeMaio has made it clear that he’s against the U-T’s proposed waterfront stadium. If he ever supports it while in office, it would be a flip of Grand Hyatt-sized proportions.
What About Filner?
Manchester has made his contempt for Filner just as clear as his preference for DeMaio.
“I think that Bob Filner is a bad congressman and he’s a bad guy,” he said in a U-T interview this month.
Filner and Manchester’s history goes beyond this election. The congressman has been one of the strongest political opponents of the Navy Broadway project. Three years ago, Filner even called for an FBI investigation of what he called “possible fraud” related to geologic studies of the complex.
On the campaign trail, Filner uses Manchester to personify his message that downtown special interests and developers will run City Hall if DeMaio’s elected. Filner’s accused Manchester of trying to buy the election and repeats that DeMaio’s mantra of “reform” stands for: “Real Estate For Manchester.”
Filner produced an entire television advertisement about the DeMaio -Manchester connection titled, “Connect the Dots.” The narrator ends the ad saying, “If you’re a downtown mega-developer, vote for DeMaio. If you’re not, vote for Bob Filner.”
The Connection Helps And Hurts
When you’re running for mayor, the strong backing of the region’s largest newspaper has its benefits. Last week at SDSU, Manchester indicated there’s more support for DeMaio coming before the election. The U-T’s editorial page also hammers Filner constantly. The paper drives the pro-DeMaio narrative in a way that the candidate could never do himself.
Manchester’s early financial backing also helped establish DeMaio as a political player in a city where he had no prior connection.
But DeMaio’s relationship with the newspaper and Manchester can hurt beyond the fact that it’s easy ammunition for his opponent.
DeMaio, who is gay, has a polarizing reputation within the LGBT community, and the Manchester link doesn’t help. Manchester became persona non grata when he donated $125,000 to the 2008 Proposition 8 anti-gay marriage initiative. Manchester’s since apologized for the donation. DeMaio supports gay marriage.
And under Manchester and Lynch’s stewardship, the U-T has become, in the words of former Voice of San Diego reporter Rob Davis, “more partisan, provocative and petulant.” KPBS, in particular, has a team of reporters documenting Manchester and his growing media empire, and coverage only intensified after Manchester purchased the North County Times last month. Along with the waterfront development, the U-T’s been especially aggressive in its stances against President Barack Obama.
The constant media focus on the U-T’s activities can’t help but affect DeMaio’s candidacy. The connection already resulted in one of DeMaio’s worst mistakes of the general election when he misrepresented his meetings with Manchester.
Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?
Please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5663.
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