— Word from inside the Union-Tribune is that the paper is planning a big push for a new city-financed stadium for the Chargers. Sports columnist Nick Canepa fired the first shot last month, warning that the team might leave town and proclaiming, "There's something terribly bush league about a town losing an NFL team." And sources say plenty more is in the works, including a series of pro-stadium editorials designed to put heat on the San Diego City Council. Backing the move is said to be Copley Newspapers' "editor in chief" Herb Klein, a longtime sports nut who was once asked by the city clerk's office to register as a lobbyist if he was going to keep making calls to councilmembers on behalf of the downtown baseball stadium. During Klein's tenure, the paper also waged a successful editorial war for the Charger-ticket guarantee. Because public funding is regarded as being a hard sell in the midst of the current round of city budget cuts, observers note, the paper has been carefully downplaying the hiring freeze currently in place at City Hall ... Former U-T staff columnist Mary Curran-Downey is now freelancing her column for the paper, reports Editor & Publisher magazine. "I'm really grateful my paper is letting me do this. Many journalists I know, especially women, are looking for ways to make their family and professional life work together," Curran-Downey is quoted as saying. But there is a downside to replacing staffers with freelancers, notes fellow U-T columnist Peter Rowe. "You lose some standing and credibility in the community when the columnist isn't a staff member," Rowe, president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, told E&P, which reports that the U-T didn't hire a staff replacement for Curran-Downey. Dennis Lythgoe, book editor of the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, takes an even dimmer view of the cost-cutting trend. "In the long run, it's not very helpful to use freelance columnists because they don't feel like part of the paper, they don't really have relationships with the rest of the staff, and they don't get around town as much."

Tom and Tony show The convention of the National Association of Political Consultants, featuring the 2002 Public Affairs "Pollie" awards, opens today at downtown's Gaslamp Hilton. Besides the Oscar-style "best campaign" awards lunch, the meeting will feature reporters talking about the California gubernatorial race and a speech by San Diego-based Los Angeles Times reporter Tony Perry entitled "News from the Front...Firsthand account of the war in Afghanistan." Other topics include "Former Press Secretaries, from Press Room to Board Room." But perhaps most intriguing is a session entitled "Understanding Campaign Finance and Voter Reform," set for tomorrow afternoon. A panel of political lawyers will be moderated by none other than San Diego's own Tom Shepard, who copped a misdemeanor guilty plea to avoid felony charges that he helped fallen mayor Roger Hedgecock, felon J. David Dominelli, and his girlfriend, Del Mar socialite Nancy Hoover, launder hundreds of thousands of dollars of Dominelli's ill-gotten gains into Hedgecock's 1983 mayoral campaign. Shepard, who is also chairing the event, is on the board of the consultants association. This year his clients include second district city council candidate Kevin Faulconer.

Enronitis This week's Business Week is out with a story about how Pacific Corporate Group, a La Jolla investment advisory outfit run by Christopher Bower, steered more than $750 million of funds belonging to the California Public Employees Retirement System into those controversial off-balance-sheet Enron partnerships ... Barry Minkow is the pastor of Community Bible Church in Scripps Ranch. Before that he served almost eight years in prison on a federal fraud rap arising from the infamous ZZZZ Best $300 million embezzlement scam. Now, USA Today reports, Minkow has gone into business as a "fraud consultant" and produced an "online course" to teach unwary accountants how to catch financial crooks. "The same techniques I used over and over to defraud are being used now," he told the paper. "Enron is just me all over again." Minkow also made news recently when he set up a fund at his church for the family of Danielle van Dam.

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