Andrew Cunanan, Larry Lawrence, Helen Copley

Home sweet home

— National media types are getting their jollies from the way the Union-Tribune has covered this year's unprecedented round of big San Diego stories. First it was the cross-country murder spree of Bishop's School alum Andrew Cunanan, which the U-T virtually ignored until he shot Gianni Versace. The paper then ran a page-one "exclusive," picked up by national wire services, suggesting Cunanan had tested positive for the HIV virus. A Miami coroner later refuted the report. Now comes the case of Democrat M. Larry Lawrence, who frequently boasted about how unloved he was by the local Republican establishment. But though the U-T's late publisher Jim Copley reviled Lawrence, the same couldn't be said for Helen Copley, who inherited the then Union and Evening Tribune when her husband died in 1974. In 1986 Lawrence personally presented Copley with the Anti-Defamation League's "award for distinguished community service" at a lavish dinner and dance he hosted in her honor at his Hotel del Coronado. "She has risen above controversy to speak the truth," Lawrence proclaimed. Coincidentally or not, the remarks proved a watershed in Lawrence's relationship with the newspaper. From then until his death last year, the hotel magnate and the publisher were fast friends. He supported Copley's failed bid to build a new regional airport at Miramar, and the paper downplayed the many controversies, including embassy staffing and decorating scandals, that beset Lawrence as Bill Clinton's ambassador to Switzerland. The paper also paid scant attention to Lawrence's close business ties to convicted money launderer Dick Silberman, the Democratic moneyman and one-time husband of Republican Mayor Susan Golding. Then last week the U-T went with a page-one piece featuring an ex-aide to former Democratic Congressman Lionel Van Deerlin, a U-T columnist, who supported Lawrence's claim of service in the Merchant Marine. As in the case of the Cunanan piece, the story got national play. Hours later, the New York Post broke word of Lawrence's wartime registration at an Illinois junior college, debunking his tales of perilous sea duty. Less than 48 hours later, Lawrence's coffin was winging its way back to San Diego.

A tax for the birds

San Diego's PETCO Animal Supplies, one of the nation's biggest retail purveyors of bird food, has come out in favor of taxing outdoor products like binoculars, mountaineering boots, motor homes, and yes, birdseed. The plan was concocted by U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit as a way to raise $350 million a year in wildlife habitat funds, but it was put on ice last year when resistance to the notion developed in Congress. Now supporters are back, this time with a list of corporate backers, including PETCO. Says the company's Don Cowan: "We've joined the organization that is working for that. We favor the idea as it is currently envisioned, but who knows how it will come together." Under current plans, birdseed and boot buyers would pay a 5 percent levy; film purchases would be taxed at 2 percent; and RVs would be taxed at .25 to .50 a percent, with taxes capped at $100 per item. "It's a user fee in a way, and various items would have a tax, and those revenues would be used to support various things for wildlife," Cowan says. "Birds would be a primary benefactor, and there would be others as well. While we're a pet store, wildlife is of interest to us, so we do have a vested interest." Opposition is being led by GOP Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn of Washington state. "Washingtonians are already taxed too much," a Dunn spokesman says.

Maid-gate ad infinitum

An INS source says the government plans to appeal an immigration law judge's ruling last week allowing ex-Pete Wilson maid Josefa Klag to remain in the country ... High on the list of Susan Golding's fat-cat endorsements released last week: Jay Pritzker, owner of Hyatt Hotels, whose Hyatt Regency stands to benefit hugely from her proposal to expand the convention center ... Super-secret General Atomics, the government contractor on Torrey Pines Mesa, has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to amend decommissioning plans for its TRIGA research reactors.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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