There used to be a time when public relations pretty much consisted of writing press releases and introducing newspaper reporters to people with fancy names. Old-time public relations people were flaks, you knew their editorial orientation, which was an unabashedly single-interest viewpoint — their client’s. Usually the client needed public exposure and the PR person did whatever could be done to capture publicity.
One of the great public relations coups of all times is memorialized in a photograph of Richard Nixon jowl to jowl with Nikita Khrushchev, Nixon menacingly pointing his finger in what appears to be a showdown that Nixon got the better of. The scene took place in the kitchen of a model home during the 1959 United States Exhibition in Moscow, and none of it would have happened had it not been for William Safire, then a public relations man for a New York State builder whose model home was not supposed to be part of the Nixon-Khrushchev tour route through the exhibition.
Safire, in his 1963 book The Relations Explosion, describes how he hired a Soviet Army jeep driver to drag away a chain-link fence and smash down some bushes separating the model home from the prescribed route, then shouted to the confused tour guide, “Right through here to the typical American house,” as the two leaders drew near. Trapped in the small kitchen of the home, there was room for but one reporter, Safire, Nixon and Khrushchev, and their entourage. An AP photographer threw his camera over the crowd to Safire and the PR man obligingly snapped the shutter, just as Nixon was pointing to the refrigerator.
The Nixon-Khrushchev “kitchen debate” was a triumph of the old school of public relations, a practitioner of which was in town recently to address the local chapter of the American Marketing Association. Jim Hardiman has been director of public relations for Knotts Berry Farm for the last several years. Before that he was in charge of CBS-TV’s press relations department. One of his principal responsibilities in that post was to organize the annual visits of print-media television editors and columnists to the West Coast for the unveiling of new fall shows. “I reached the conclusion in 1965 that this had become a tired scene,” the jovial Hardiman told his San Diego audience. “The editors were becoming jaded, the same ones were going to the same studios and staying in the same hotels.”
So Hardiman devised a scheme, a kind of media Love Boat with the TV stars and their less glamorous critics jammed together aboard a ship bound from L.A. to San Francisco, partying all the way. An expensive way to promote the fall line-up. but one which was made possible by what Hardiman calls “tie-ins,” the financial participation of other organizations and corporations in the promotion to the mutual benefit of all. This is the same concept employed by the game shows on television — “transportation provided for promotional consideration by . . .“at the end of the credits. Hotels, washing machine manufacturers, dress companies, they all do it. For his 1965 extravaganza, Hardiman got the Matson Lines to donate a cruise.ship. “Before we sailed, we had a big banquet in a San Pedro restaurant right on the water. The Coast Guard needed help with its recruiting program so they staged an air-sea rescue right outside the windows while we were eating.
Miss San Pedro came around giving out cheap cigarette lighters. At the dock as we were loading, the Los Angeles Philharmonic played for the sendoff and as we sailed off. fireboats from the Port of Los Angeles came out spraying water. We’d gone to the Goodyear Company earlier with all the names of the press members signed up for the trip and they agreed to flash the names on the [Goodyear blimp’s] advertising board while we snapped photos. Later, when the blimp flew past the boat on the trip and flashed the names of the editors again, we went around with the prints and gave them to every member of the press while he was looking at his own name up there in the sky.” Details, little details make the difference. As Hardiman said that night, “You’ve got to make the press comfortable."
In the years after that first extravaganza, Hardiman took his editors and network stars on junkets to Canada, paid for largely by Air Canada and the government, whose interest in promoting the upcoming Montreal Expo provided the “tie-in” opportunity; and to Mexico City, where the 1968 Olympics were the natural ‘ ‘tie-in ’’ opportunity. “Once again, we didn't pay anything from the time we left Hollywood till the time we got back. The hotels, the tourism ministry, the airlines wanted people to travel there, to stay there. You see,” Hardiman told his listeners, “public relations is talking people into things and talking people out of things without spending any money.”
Unfortunately, everything’s a bit more complicated now than it once was, even as recently as the late Sixties. “Most papers will not allow their writers to take a five-dollar lunch, or take transportation, on the theory they won't be lily-white unless they pay their own bills,” Hardiman lamented. “Well, they’re often too cheap to pay the bills, and very often you can t get them out to cover anything.” In answer to a question from one of the members of the marketing association’s local chapter, many of whom in the audience were barely out of diapers when Hardiman took his editors off to San Francisco, he conceded that the large-scale promotion of old-school public relations is dead. “As a matter of fact,” he said rather sadly, “these grand junkets aren’t done anymore.”
It doesn’t take grand tours or grand openings or even grand plans to land your client in the newspapers. Sometimes a simple press release will do, and sometimes that press release will appear intact, not really edited, just as the public relations person wrote it. The Public Relations Club of San Diego and the city’s Press Club, which is about equal parts reporters and editors and public relations practitioners, both offer prizes to public relations people whose stories have appeared in the county’s daily and weekly newspapers in essentially the same form they were written . Considering that the Washington Post, one of the nation’s great newspapers, early this month attempted to ban all interviews set up by public relations people, saying that nobody need hire an intermediary to get his message into print, the practice of some local papers here to print stories written by public relations Firms — and of the Press Club to award the best of those efforts — either indicates that the county can boast of having some exceedingly objective PR people, or that the local community of journalists is exceedingly permissive.
Of course, public relations people are inclined to see their intimate relationship with the media as proof of their own objectivity, and of the editors’ recognition of the fact. Sue Pondrom, who is employed by UCSD Extension as a public relations specialist, won a best of show from the Press Club in the public relations division for a story she wrote on teen-age sexual precocity that was tied to an Extension course for parents. Her clippings show that the story appeared verbatim in the Coast Dispatch in Encinitas of Feburary 20, 1980, the Oceanside Blade-Tribune of February 12, the Del Mar Surfcomber of February 20, the Escondido Times-Advocate of February 13, and in the La Jolla Light, Carlsbad Journal, and San Marcos Courier during the same period. The same story appeared in part or rewritten in the Sentinel, the Evening Tribune, and in Fall-brook and Lemon Grove weeklies. “What’s wrong with that?” Pondrom asks. * ‘Could it be that we [ PR people] can write too?” Of course they can. and often very well, often better that newspaper staff writers, which is what many of them once were.
Two of the city editors for whom I once worked when I was a reporter at the Tribune are now in the PR business — Bernie Hunt for David Grant, Inc., and Mike Walker for Pacific Telephone in San Francisco, where former Union reporter Craig MacDonald also works. Dick Carlson, San Diego Federal’s senior vice president for public relations, was a prominent newspaper and television journalist before joining the local corporate scene. Otto Bos, former Union political reporter, took on a special client when he became Pete Wilson’s chief spokesman. Tom Gable, who has his own firm here, is a former business editor for the Tribune. Three Daily Transcript alumni are now in PR, as are at least seven former Union-Tribune reporters other than those already mentioned. A casually compiled (and undoubtedly incomplete) list of these people is thirty names long. By themselves, they would make up a fair-size daily newsroom; in fact, the Los Angeles Times's local staff is smaller. The line between publicity and news may be as thin as it is at least partially because so many of the local players are products of San Diego State University, where public relations is taught as part of the journalism department’s curriculum.
The point is not that public relations people can’t write as well as reporters, but that they write from a concern that their employers, and not the general public, benefit from their efforts. One local editor who has printed verbatim stories submitted by PR people is Jim Alvord, now the executive editor of the Sentinel and former editor of the La Jolla Light. Does he owe his readers an explanation that some stories they are reading are not written by his staff? “1 think I don’t. If I feel it’s accurate, I don’t think we gain anything by identifying where it’s coming from. We print a lot of stories not generated by our staff.”
Alvord tries to make judgments about who’s trustworthy. He’s been burned slightly by press releases with incorrect information and has had to cull out others that were overly promotional, and he also tries to stick to a policy that eliminates the printing of stories from strictly private businesses. “I make a differentiation between the information coming from commercial industries and that from the colleges and, say, the zoo. ” The problem Alvord faces is understaffing at his own newspapers. “Papers like the Light or the Sentinel are just not staffed to produce the amounts of copy that are needed.”
Even at the big dailies and television news departments, with large staffs, there is a need for public relations ideas because those large operations have even a greater need for stories to fill up their papers or broadcast time. Sometimes the imaginations of editors are simply not enough, and that’s when the public relations industry can be called upon to contribute indirectly to “news” production, to “place” a story with a news outlet.
“Placing” a story is the process of dreaming up some angle that can, without too much straining of the boundaries of good sense and news judgment, be related to a client of the public relations person. “Say you have a client that sells antique cars. There’s been a rash of thefts of old cars and your client is an expert on the matter, right?” explains Rich Wise, who has his own firm here. Within probably a week of the phone call or press release from Wise to an editor somewhere, there will be a story on this “problem.” And it will probably quote the dealer in old cars because he is, in fact, familiar with the losses to thieves of vintage autos. Often the reporter who is assigned to cover such a story has no idea it was “placed. ” Names of who to contact are passed along with the assignment. Sometimes the story is suggested to the reporter directly. “It depends,” Wise says. “If I know the reporter, or he has a beat or a special interest that fits the story. I’ll go directly to the reporter. If it's a general story, you go to cityside [the city editor) and they assign it to a reporter.”
The cordial relationship that exists in San Diego between publications and public relations can work to the detriment of the news in ways that sorely test reporters. One of my own most absurd experiences came while I was in the middle of researching and writing a series of stories about an ex-Nazi living in Rancho Santa Fe whose deportation had been held up by the intervention into the case of the Central Intelligence Agency, for whom he had worked. 1 had to drop what I was doing to go down to Chula Vista to interview a nice older man who had just been voted the month’s outstanding small-appliance businessman by the local chapter of the Small Appliance Association (there was, at the time, such an organization). I couldn't talk the assistant city editor who made the assignment out of giving it to me, and couldn’t, under my contractual obligations, refuse to do the story. The assistant city editor eventually moved on to join the Gable Agency as an account executive.
There are a lot of reasons for reporters to take up public relations. The prospect of making more money is one. A good journeyman at the Union or the Tribune these days makes about $25,000 per year, the highest pay in the county with the exception of that at the Los Angeles Times. But no matter how good he is, a reporter will stay at that salary level unless he or she is one of the rare and lucky ones to win a personal column, or is even luckier and moves on to an editorial management position, of which there are very few. A good public relations man or woman can expect
to earn somewhat more than that per year, and if they are really good, they’ll move on to be a director of public relations at a company, of which there are many more positions in this town, or to open his or her own agency, where the prospects of earning big money are tantalizing.
Oddly enough, public relations people who have been reporters talk of more freedom on the promotional side of writing. “You have perhaps more control,” says Rich Wise. “You're better able to pursue your own ideas. ” Another former reporter explains, “You set up your own day, you don’t have to drop what you ’re doing when someone tells you to.”
The public relations people, naturally, have to put up with their own headaches of getting favorable publicity into print and onto the airwaves. “You come up with a story idea,” says Wise, “and you go to the library to research it, and do interviews with the client company. Then you write the release and of course before you mail it out or deliver it you have to run it by the client, and they tear it up. ‘We can’t say that, you can’t show them this.’ You try to explain to them that the reporters are likely to want to know that information, and ask for it, but it often doesn’t do any good. So it’s rewritten. It goes to the city editor, he gives it to a reporter. That’s when the first indeterminable factor comes into play. Depending on how lazy or vigorous the reporter, your release will be [published) more or less intact. Let’s say it’s a controversial story and you want to control the content. Once it hits the city editor’s desk it’s too late in the process to do anything but wait. Say it’s about the zoo. Well, the reporter might hate animals, the photographer is working late on his shift and wants to get in and out with a minimum of effort. After the siory is written, the copy desk will edit it. So it can wind up entirely different from what it started out to be.”
The newsletter of the local chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (not the Public Relations Club, which is a separate organization, nor the Press Club, which also offers membership to public relations people) from time to time runs maxims that reveal the disdain or hostility of PR people for the news industry they depend on, hostility that is seldom voiced directly to members of that industry. “The chances of a news release being used,” goes one, “are inverse to how many people at the paper remember that you used to work there for peanuts and then ‘sold out* for the ‘big time.’ ” Another, “The more complex the issue, the younger the reporter sent to cover it. ” And another, “Any attempt to explain complex subjects in simple terms will be: a, misunderstood; b. misquoted; or, c, taken in the most unfavorable light.” And, “The more innocuous the question, the more likely the answer is to make Page One. ” Dave Nuffer, president of the local PR firm Nuffer-Smith and Associates, recalls another maxim he picked up not long ago. “You want to hear the greatest non sequitur I ever heard?” Nuffer offered. “It was at some conference [of PR people] and somebody was prompted to say, ‘Confusion is better than positive information that’s wrong.’ ”
Public relations agencies are more and more leaving the world of public relations and entering the world of public affairs. The most familiar and oldest form of the practice is political management, and the grass is green out there along the campaign trail.
In September of 1979 San Diego voters were asked to decide whether the city should hand over to the Navy undeveloped land in Florida Canyon for its new hospital, in exchange for the Navy’s nearby existing hospital and land. Proponents of the swap (the chamber of commerce, the San Diego Coalition, the Centre City Association), who called themselves Citizens for Balboa Hospital, raised enough money to pay the Gable Agency $19,254 for its advice and services. Opponents of the proposal had local publicist Pat Doering on their side and she donated $380 of her. services, the only professional help the opposition enjoyed. Proposition D gathered sixty-one percent of the vote, less than the two-thirds supposedly required by law, but not enough to avert Navy condemnation.
A real whopper in terms of money raised was Proposition O in November of 1980, a ballot initiative that would have set up rent control boards throughout the city. Opponents of that proposition raised more than $400,000. The Stoorza Company was the PR Firm: Those in favor of the measure managed to put together $5645. The measure, of course, was defeated.
In late 1980, a group in opposition to the use of public money for the building of a downtown convention center planned by the city’s redevelopment authorities raised $7593 for a campaign to qualify the question for the June, 1981 ballot, then raised another $17,297 to campaign against the convention center. In contrast, backers of the center, who together were a local Fortune 100 calling themselves Citizens for America’s Finest Downtown, had a computer readout of donations totalling $117,530. Of that amount, $13,022.63 went to the Stoorza Company for public relations work, $4900.81 went to the accounting firm of Miller-Roos & Co., and $3500 went to pollster Oscar Kaplan’s Economic Behaviour Analysts, for a voter survey. Another $17,000 went to the advertising firm of Ellis, Isroelit, Isroelit and Johnston for their creative work. The chamber of commerce spent $1125.10 on postage alone for mailings favoring the center. Despite the lopsided economics, the measure went down to defeat, a reversal of the usual pattern, which many attribute to the fact that there was an uncommonly large voter response to the experiment with mailed ballots.
What does all this money buy? One very important service is research. In each of the above cases, and in a fourth, the district elections referendum in the fall of 1981, voter surveys were done prior to the actual campaigning. No serious candidate or citizens group will fail to spend money trying to figure out what this voter wants to hear and what that voter doesn’t want to hear. So you employ a PR firm that can send one kind of mailer to one list of voters, and an altogether different mailer to another. The PR firm usually relies on a pollster to identify other concerns of targeted voters as well.
The interesting thing about surveys is that they very often reveal to experienced PR firms just how minds can be changed, where a basically popular ballot measure, for example, is vulnerable to attack . Oscar Kaplan’s San Diego Poll is the most respected in this city. "Public relations firms now use not so much the shotgun [mass mailings and advertising], but the rifle. You try to identify neighborhoods, ethnic, religious, and age groups to narrow down your appeal. You can very often take people’s attitudes and turn them around. There was overwhelming support for district elections in the beginning [before campaigning]. And then Orr and Sanderson (the PR firm that hired Kaplan] did a number on that one. ” Kaplan does analyze survey results for "softness" of attitudes that could help clients overturn those attitudes, but in the case of district elections he was called on only to do the survey and turn over his raw findings. "Orr and Sanderson did not need any help from me."
There are social-psychology theories that attempt to explain how minds can be changed. The theory of cognitive dissonance is one. Very roughly, it posits that the human mind does not tolerate values conflicts. Introduce a conflict in voter minds and then offer them a way to resolve the conflict and those minds will greet that argument gladly. Political counselors generally either pooh-pooh the efficacy of theories, or refuse to divulge their trade secrets when you ask them if they use such theories. As one said, "The ‘whats’ l give you free, the ‘hows’ you have to pay for.”
Kaplan simply says, "I support the Green Theory, which goes more or less like this: If you have enough money and you spend it professionally, and you’re not Adolf Hitler, you’ll do well."
In each of the ballot measures above, professional PR and advertising help was engaged by citizens groups that were mainly financed by $500 contributions from good citizens like the chamber of commerce and developers like the Koll Company, Ernest Hahn, Hill-Smyk Associates, and Genstar, Pardee, and the Signal Corporation. Home Federal Savings, Torrey Enterprises, Christopher Sickels, NAASCO, and even out-of-town industrialist Justin Dart (a key contributor to Mayor Pete Wilson’s present and recent campaigns) show up on contribution statements again and again, in a phalanx, ready to hand over their cash in an effort to affect public policies. Of course, this is nothing new —just big-time urban politics as old as Mayor Daly and older. As old as Tammany Hall. But Mayor Daly and Boss Tweed used to twist arms and throw city contracts to the party loyalists who twisted the arms. Here and now we do it differently. We take some of that city money and give it to public relations people and have them persuade us to do the right thing. And no public relations firm is situated more comfortably in this network, decorously twisting the arms, than the Stoorza Company.
Gail Stoorza's company is located right at the point where the city’s circulation system exchanges fresh blood for old — ‘‘the interface” is what it’s called in public relations — where public and private managers drop off their programs for delivery to John Q. Citizen, and where John Q. Citizen’s reactions to those programs are fed back to the managers. It’s not clear yet precisely how this system works, probably not even clear to Stoorza and her top executive, Alan Ziegaus. After all, they did lose the convention center program, which probably makes the Stoorza Company something less than America’s Finest PR Agency. But the company isn't doing badly.
For four years it has handled public relations for the Centre City Development Corporation, the quasi-pubiic agency that shuttles between Ernest Hahn, the city council, private retailers, and community groups in search of a new and larger downtown. For all the surveys, brochures, media tours, internal and external newsletters; for all the press releases released and charts charted in those four years, the Stoorza Company has been paid $96,525. Those are public dollars because CCDC is publicly funded.
The relatively new Southeast Development Corporation, which hopes to do for minority and low-income neighborhoods what CCDC is hoping to do for downtown, has also retained Stoorza and Ziegaus. The contract is very similar to CCDC’s contract and was prepared by the same law firm. It will yield the Stoorza Company some $16,000 in public funds this year.
Since last September, when a contract was signed for advice and consultation, the city's housing commission has paid the Stoorza Company $8300 in city funds to help the commission set up its own in-house public relations operation, to write news releases and to develop an annual report as well as to operate a speakers bureau.
The public-agency business the company enjoys is really only a minor part of the Stoorza Company’s portfolio of clients. The cumulative $120,825 the above three have contracted to pay, or have already paid, for the last four years is an insignificant amount for a company employing sixteen account executives and clerical help in addition to Ziegaus and Stoorza.
The current client list of the company includes AVCO Community Developers (Rancho Bernardo). CDS-Grant (Christopher Sickels's company that is seeking public bonds from the city council for the renovation of the Grant Hotel), M.H. Golden Company (the old-line construction firm often involved in city contracts), the Bank of San Diego, Signal Landmark. Inc. and Campus Crusade for Christ (potential developers of 5000 acres east of Penasquitos), the San Diego Padres Baseball Club, San Diego Transit Corporation, and the heavyweight architectural and engineering firm owned by Frank Hope, the Hope Consulting Group.
That’s only a partial list of Stoorza’s locally active clients, but it’s imposing enough. Mix it together with the fact that the Stoorza Company has those public agencies as clients, and has handled the convention center campaign, the Bill. Lowery for Congress campaign, the antirent control campaign; mix together Ziegaus’s work as spokesman for the pro-Navy Hospital forces, and that he is Leon Williams’s campaign manager (Williams is the force behind the Southeast Economic Development Corporation, which, of course, is on the public-agency client list), and that the agency is handling the San Diego-Imperial County campaign for the Peripheral Canal. Mix all that together and you can see these are people who have a lot to do — with everything.
Sometimes the sheer density of these connections could cause some confusion in the average mind as to just who the Stoorza Company is representing at any given moment during a council or CCDC or SEDC or housing commission meeting. But it’s probably not very troublesome. CCDC placed in the Stoorza contract a clause that forbids the company from working for anyone connected “to the (redevelopment J project area” without prior written consent. Last March Ziegaus had to write a letter to CCDC’s director, Jerry Trimble, to let him know of (if he didn’t already know) “our firm’s representation of CDS-Grant Corporation in the firm’s effort to obtain [government-subsidized] financing for the hotel’s refurbishment.” Back in January of 1981. Trimble was worried that some people might think CCDC money paid the Stoorza Company could be flowing, or appear to be flowing, to the campaign the Stoorza Company was waging on behalf of the convention center. So Ziegaus had to write Trimble a letter that said, “This is to confirm that no hours billed to CCDC have been spent working on behalf of the campaign for a yes vote on Proposition A.”
It all gets a little confusing, doesn't it? I had hoped that an interview with Stoorza and Ziegaus would straighten things out a bit, but when I finally got my chance to sit down with them, after numerous postponements, I soon realized that the frustration I'd endured in my efforts to speak with them was to be matched by the substance of the interview itself. Ziegaus brought out his own tape recorder and set it near mine. Here are some highlights from that conversation, which began with my question about how they improve a company’s image through the use of surveys.
Can you give me a hypothetical example of what you would do in relation to a company's public [image]?
Stoorza: The best example is probably the Golden Company, where we found...
Ziegaus (interrupting): I don’t think we ought to talk about the company's clients. We don’t represent any manufacturers or retailers, so it’s a little difficult to,say. We can talk about it in a hypothetical fashion but that’s strictly what it’s going to be. It would probably be better to talk about someone in a hypothetical way similar to what we’ve worked on.
Well, take a situation that doesn't closely follow what you've done. If you would rather do that it's okay with me. We could set up a model. . .
Ziegaus: Well, the difficulty is trying to piece together something piecemeal without taking a look at all of it. I mean, it’s a truism that unless you know a lot about a company you can’t do a "communications audit.” So to try to do a hypothetical "communications audit” for you involves setting up a whole list of assumptions.
Stoorza: One of the audits we conducted was for a client that delivers a service. We found that though that client delivers a very broad service for a variety of sizes, companies, whatever, the average person who didn 't deal with them direct saw them only delivering this service and had no idea they were also delivering this service. And as a consequence, the company hadn't noticed that they were losing that share of market of that particular service. So our marketing program for the next year worked on emphasizing that we do this too. And that was a big surprise to us going in. And we had no idea that that idea existed.
Ziegaus: Did you get that? That’s really a good example — where it really pays off.
We talked about opinion surveys and then, eventually, we got into politics.
Have you ever turned down clients who you thought had a problem you didn't even want to approach? [They nod, yes.] On what basis? Too much work already? Something you weren't interested in, or actually had a negative feeling toward the client?
Ziegaus: All of those.
Stoorza: Yeah, we’ve had many occasions. . .
Ziegaus: There have been a number of occasions where we’ve turned down business, for any variety of reasons. But on occasions we’ve turned down business because we felt the problem could not be properly addressed by a public relations program. It was more serious than that. Or that we had personal reservations about the type of product or type of service, whatever it was the person was selling.
How about political campaigns? Anybody approach you whose proposition or whose candidacy you couldn’t personally feel good about taking or working for?
Ziegaus: We’ve turned down political accounts. . . I have a hesitancy because I can’t off the top of my head think of anyone we’ve turned down because we’ve had problems with their. . . .
Ziegaus: We’ve not been approached by the Ku Klux Klan or the Communist Party. We really haven’t been approached by people who aren’t pretty much philosophically in tune with what we’re working on.
Do people have an idea of what your philosophy is politically? / mean, the rent control people wouldn’t come to you now because you’ve already worked against rent control. But is there, does there . . .
Ziegaus: Well, don’t even take the time to think of it. I wouldn’t want to say. If you mention candidate X, would we take them or not take them. We wouldn’t take a pro-rent control measure. We wouldn’t take things which are against the best interests of any of our clients. Because we’re philosophically in tune with those things our clients are trying to accomplish.
What if there were a Citizens for Rail Transit, a trolley network for the San Diego urban area. What would you say about that? I mean. I’m not going to hold you to it, and I don’t think our readers are.
Ziegaus: We’re supportive of mass transit. But it would depend on what the particulars are.
What about a sign ordinance? I mean people who wanted to ban all...
Ziegaus: Outdoor signs? We’ve never discussed that.
Stoorza: I think it’s important to understand that we have a lot of people in this company and there are mixed and very divergent philosophies. We’re all professionals in dealing with communications. And I think you have to think first and foremost, ’Is it legal, is it ethical, and can we make the case?’ That doesn’t mean everybody in the company supports it. Doesn’t mean everybody’s Republican or that everybody’s Democrat. We have a mixed bag here.
Well, yeah, because Al, you used to work for, when you were a kid you did Goldwater's campaign, you did a campaign for somebody locally . . .
Ziegaus: I didn’t “do” Goldwater’s campaign.
No, no, you were knocking on doors.
Ziegaus: Sure. And I worked in Pete Wilson’s first campaign for assembly. Clair Burgener’s for Congress.
And now you’re working for Leon Williams. I believe Leon Williams is a Democrat, isn’t he?
Stoorza: And we worked for Bill Lowery last year.
Do party labels mean anything? Do you see yourselves as available to...
Ziegaus: Well, we want to work for those people who we think are going to do something good for the community. And in all those instances in which we worked for people, we made a judgment that their service had been of high quality and their continued service would be of high quality.
Can you take anybody, even though you wouldn’t vote for that candidate?
Ziegaus: No, I wouldn’t. Gail can answer for herself. I wouldn’t take anyone I couldn’t vote for. But that would be a team decision that we’d make, but I would vote against taking someone I couldn’t support.
Stoorza: Yeah, if you’re saying vote for them because it’s Democrat versus Republican and one of us happens to be registered one way or the other, I don’t think that would come into play. But if you really couldn’t vote for them philosophically because you didn’t think well of them, I don’t think we’d take them.
Ziegaus: If we thought that their service would not be ... I think that answers it ... if we thought their service would not be of benefit to the community . . .
It’s still a little confusing, isn’t it? Here’s Alan Ziegaus, standing before city planning commission chairman John G. Davies, with a proposal that the city help finance the refurbishing of the Grant Hotel. Now, the man paying Ziegaus and Stoorza to ask for city money is Christopher Sickels, whose lawyer in private life is John G. Davies. Ziegaus, the man asking for the money on behalf of Sickels, often comes to city hall to explain what next needs to be done on behalf of redevelopment because he does public relations for CCDC, and is therefore pretty close to the mayor’s position on these matters, since CCDC is pretty much the mayor’s creation. Besides that, the mayor is pretty close to Davies. If you were to look for a conflict of interest in all this, you couldn’t possibly find one. The interests are all the same. Or as Dave Nuffer says, “There are two sides to every issue, and I try to stay on both."
It occurred to me, as I was trying to follow the spaghetti-like relations between donors to political campaigns, contractors of services to the city, and this public relations company that represents both groups, that there was a question of ethics involved here somewhere. Maybe when Ziegaus goes before the council to argue one thing or another, he is not just another citizen-advocate. Maybe council members look at Ziegaus, with his folder of material under his arm, and see the man who is able to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds, and maybe they think. “Gee, I’d better keep Ziegaus happy. I’ve got an election coming up soon and I’m going to need these people he knows.” Which is what I told Ziegaus one night outside National University when I went to hear what he had to say about public relations and public policy to a political science class there. “So that’s what the article’s going to be about,” Ziegaus said. “Well, you’re not going to get a councilman to say that. No councilman's going to say that.”
“I know, Al,” I replied. “No councilman’s going to say that to me." □