Editorial obituaries

— Union-Tribune editorial writers, their credibility shredded by years of unquestioning support for the Chargers' ticket guarantee and the downtown Padres stadium deal, took some major hits on election day. Unlike the days of yore, when a U-T candidate endorsement was tantamount to virtually certain victory, some of the U-T's biggest favorites went down to defeat. Chief among them was Republican congressman Brian Bilbray, whose campaign relied heavily on the U-T's endorsement, airing TV spots that featured facsimiles of the U-T masthead and the paper's closely coordinated editorial attacks on his opponent, Democrat Susan Davis. Bilbray's defeat was a personal blow to U-T owner Helen Copley and her son David, who, federal records show, gave a total of $3000 to the congressman's failed reelection bid. In the case of San Diego Unified School District boardmember Fran Zimmerman, who faced a barrage of negative TV spots paid for by Padres owner John Moores among others, the U-T launched two editorial attacks. The paper first went after Zimmerman in an October 20 editorial urging the election of her opponent, real estate lawyer Julie Dubick. Eleven days later, in an October 31 editorial headlined "A Vital Race; City Schools' Reform Drive Is at Stake," the paper again attacked Zimmerman, claiming that "the election will determine whether the reform campaign survives." But by the Thursday following Zimmerman's victory, the U-T editorialists had decided on a new spin, with a taste of sour grapes: "Unfortunately, this race did not come down to a referendum on reform. If it had, we are confident Dubick would have prevailed." The U-T did find itself on the winning side with its endorsement of mayor-elect Dick Murphy. And the paper did well in its open-seat legislative endorsements, but with a heavy tinge of irony: when the supposedly Republican paper backed Democrats, they won. Some of the paper's Republican favorites didn't do as well. U-T?supported winners included San Diego city council members Chris Kehoe and Juan Vargas, both Democrats running in safe assembly districts, and Bob Filner, a Democrat ensconced in a safe congressional seat. Another endorsed Democratic winner was state senator Dede Alpert over Republican judge Larry Stirling, the target of a personal vendetta by Sheriff Bill Kolender, long a Copley intimate and ex-U-T employee. The paper did come out for Republican John Steel against Democratic state assemblyman Howard Wayne. Steel lost.

School daze Big-money school-board politics wasn't unique to San Diego this year. In San Francisco, a group with close ties to the operator of a chain of private schools, which runs a controversial charter school in the district, contributed $47,100 to a direct-mail piece touting three incumbent school-board members. A key donor to the group, reports the San Francisco Chronicle, is none other than Warren Hellman, wealthy financier and father-in-law of UCSD chancellor Robert Dynes and a business partner of Padres owner Moores. "There's never been anything like this in a school board race in San Francisco," veteran boardmember Dan Kelly told the paper. "San Franciscans for Sensible Government is a sham organization being used to funnel large contributions into the campaign." The other major donor to the campaign was Gap founder Donald Fisher, whose Edison Schools, Inc., runs the charter school, target of board critics. Two challengers endorsed by the mailer lost, but incumbent Mary Hernandez, an Edison School supporter also backed by the mailer, kept her seat. A growth-control measure opposed by Hellman and Mayor Willie Brown lost narrowly.

Be on the lookout Somebody stole six guns and six uniforms from the van of Colorado State Patrol chief Lonnie Westphal last week, reports the Denver Post. The van was parked blocks away from San Diego's downtown convention center, where Westphal was attending the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention. "We've got the word out through the law-enforcement community. We hope something will turn up," a state trooper also in town for the convention told the paper ... Charles Woods, who once owned the now-defunct Cuyamaca Club downtown, has lost his latest bid for an Alabama congressional seat.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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