Married Rich

Handsome dowries among San Diego elite

San Diego's latest wealthy wife-­ambitious-husband relationship came to light after last November's election, when attorney Scott Peters beat Linda Davis for the city's District 1 city-council seat. Peters, a self-styled "environmental attorney" and former deputy county counsel, loaned his campaign more than $200,000. The job pays just $60,715. In an interview published in early November, he told the Union-Tribune that he had to put his own money into the campaign because Davis, his opponent, had been endorsed by the building industry. "That's generally where money comes from in San Diego politics, so we've had to make up for that by kicking in our own funds."

Peters, 41, is married to Lynn Gorguze, who, along with her father, Vince, the former president and chief operating officer of Emerson Electric Company, operate a privately owned conglomerate called Cameron Holdings. It is named for Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke University, the alma mater of both Lynn Gorguze and Peters.

In February 2000, the St. Louis Business Journal reported that Cameron had gross revenues of $350 million. According to that account, Vince Gorguze, originally of St. Louis, began buying small- and middle-sized industrial businesses in 1978 by purchasing Sinclair & Rush, a plastic-molding venture in St. Louis.

His daughter was a senior partner in a Minneapolis investment firm, First Bank Systems, in 1988 when she first joined her father to help raise capital for his purchase of a million-dollar stake in San Diego's Aldila, Inc., a golf-club maker. By November 1990, according to a report in the San Diego Business Journal, Gorguze, then vice president of corporate development for Aldila, was working on a 30,000-square-foot Tijuana maquiladora for the company.

Today, Cameron's biggest single holding is reported to be PlayPower Inc., the largest manufacturer of commercial playground equipment in the country. The firm grossed $143.8 million in 2000, $27 million more than the year before, the St. Louis Business Journal reported this March. "Through its family of companies," the company website says, "PlayPower can satisfy your entire commercial playground, floating dock and boat or personal water craft (PWC) lift requirements. Our product offering includes traditional play systems (both wood and steel), soft contained play systems, water slide, pool slides, free standing slides and swings, benches, tables, floating docks, boat lifts, PWC lifts...the list goes on and on." The company also owns SpectraTurf of Corona, maker of rubberized surfacing for playgrounds and businesses.

Owning a conglomerate has clearly been lucrative for Lynn and Vince Gorguze. But it has presented a raft of complex legal questions for her husband Scott Peters. Because the city is a likely future customer of PlayPower and its subsidiaries, including Miracle Recreation, Peters recently asked the city attorney's office for an official opinion regarding possible conflicts. After researching the issue, the attorneys concluded that Peters would have to be especially vigilant.

"The City has used Miracle Recreation equipment in some of its facilities, and has acquired products from the company both directly, in the case of replacement parts, and indirectly, through a general contractor, in the case of construction and renovation projects," the attorney wrote. "Miracle Recreation does not install playground equipment, and does not have a general contractor's license, therefore, it does not directly bid on City playground construction renovation projects, and does not have any contractual relationship with the City when it provides materials for such projects.

"The February 20, 2001, Council Docket includes an item seeking to add four Park and Recreation Department projects in Council District 6 to the Fiscal Year 2001 Capital Improvement Program budget. Of the four projects, two are 'tot lot' renovations. Additionally, the City Council docket of February 26, 2001, includes a similar item involving five park projects in Council Districts 2, 6, 7, and 8. Two of the five projects are tot lot renovation projects. The two Council items are for the purpose of approving funding for the projects only, neither item involves the award of any contracts.

"Because these Council decisions to fund park projects are preliminary funding items, with no known connection at this time to Miracle Recreation, you do not have a conflict of interest that would disqualify you from participating in these decisions under the Act or Section 1090.

"Future Council actions related to tot lot renovations may involve different facts, and should be analyzed on a case by case basis. Please feel free to call me if you have any further questions about this matter."

The opinion also pointed out that the city council has adopted a broad conflict-of-interest policy, not enforceable by law, more stringent than the state's conflict code: "No elected official...of the City of San Diego shall engage in any business or transaction or shall have a financial or other personal interest, direct or indirect, which is incompatible with the proper discharge of his official duties or would tend to impair his independence or judgment or action in the performance of such duties."

"Under this policy," the attorney explained, "it is each official's responsibility to determine whether he or she has any interest, financial or not, which is 'incompatible with the proper discharge of official duties'

"If an official determines that he or she cannot be objective about a decision because of a financial or personal interest, the official may choose to abstain from participating in discussions or discussions and votes on a particular project.

"You may wish to consider this policy in determining whether or not to participate in these Council decisions on funding projects, which could potentially use Miracle Recreation equipment, even though a determination has been made that there is no legal conflict of interest. It should be emphasized, however, that this is a policy, not a law, and does not have the force and effect of law."

Peters has vowed to avoid any conflicts of interest scrupulously. As a frequently mentioned candidate for Democrat Howard Wayne's seat in the state assembly, his opponents will be watching every move. The legacy left by San Diego's other weddings of wealth and power suggests that the path to success for the ambitious young politician married to money is fraught with peril.

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