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Mayor Golding, City Attorney Casey Gwinn, Councilman Byron Wear, Councilwoman Barbara Warden collected thousands from the Spanos family

The scandal that is the stadium

As Ronald Reagan might have said, there they go again. Seven years after then-San Diego mayor Susan Golding proclaimed on May 15, 1995, that she had engineered an ironclad contract to keep the Chargers in town until 2020, the team now demands a new stadium and threatens a move to Los Angeles. Is there a lesson in the history of the deal that has cost San Diego taxpayers millions of dollars and possibly the city's professional football team?

It is a history of secret city council meetings and broken promises. In 1997, citizens filed lawsuits and collected almost 50,000 signatures to put the deal on the ballot, only to see a superior court judge throw the referendum out. Then San Diegans were forced to watch as millions of tax dollars were spent on the contract's notorious ticket guarantee.

Ambitious politicos -- including Golding, City Attorney Casey Gwinn, Councilman Byron Wear, and Councilwoman Barbara Warden -- collected thousands of dollars in campaign funds from the Spanos family and others who stood to benefit from the ill-fated project. Although the controversy surrounding the deal is widely seen to have ended Susan Golding's political career and doused Wear's and Warden's mayoral hopes, others on the council who voted for it, including Juan Vargas and Christine Kehoe, have gone on to careers in the state assembly.

Today, Golding's successor, Dick Murphy, who campaigned in 2000 against the 1995 contract, is in the midst of the same kind of secret negotiations with the Chargers that begat the original deal. It seems fair to wonder whether the saga of Qualcomm Stadium and the Chargers, presented inside this issue in letters, clips, and transcripts, will be repeated.

May 1, 1995

Letter from Ron Fowler, president of the San Diego International Sports Council to San Diego city manager Jack McGrory:

Our pledge to the City of San Diego, and the citizens of San Diego, is to rally our forces and focus our energies and efforts to promote the sale of Chargers season tickets. We recognize the critical importance of this pledge, and we are prepared to work on a multi-year ticket sales campaign to increase home game general admission attendance to a minimum of 60,000 per game.

Please accept this letter as our endorsement of the ratification of the proposed lease agreement by the San Diego City Council. The San Diego International Sports Council is prepared to begin work immediately on this project.

May 15, 1995

Statement of Herb Klein, editor in chief of Copley Newspapers, which owns the Union-Tribune, to the San Diego City Council:

I just want to say two or three things. In our own newspaper we've enthusiastically supported this project. I was here when we first built the stadium, when we brought the Chargers here.

The amount we're really [going to] vote on today is a small part of what you get from just one Super Bowl.

To be a world-class cityyou need to have world-class sports, you need to have a world-class arena, and this is a major step in that time at a very key point.

I've had a working relationship with Mr. Tagliabue and Mr. Roselle for all of the years that both of 'em have been in office...and so one of the protections you have so you won't have gamblers or you won't have mobsters or whatever coming in as potential owners, number one, is that the Spanoses would not deal with such people, with the family they are.

May 15, 1995

Statement by Mayor Susan Golding to the San Diego City Council:

Teams in some instances leave in the middle of the night and then leave stadiums built at taxpayer expense empty. I feel that it is extremely important to approve this agreement with the Chargers.

The Chargers clearly are tough negotiators and wanted a great deal more than we were willing or I feel prudently could give. And I think this agreement is a compromise. It was a difficult negotiation, but this agreement secures -- and somehow in the media reports this seems to have been lost -- secures this franchise for the city of San Diego for another 17 years beyond the current lease. That is an extraordinary length of time in professional football today, and I think we cannot diminish in any way what that means.

May 16, 1995

Barry Bloom

San Diego Union-Tribune

Just moments after he had won hard-fought approval of a new Chargers lease and expansion of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium yesterday, Alex Spanos grabbed the microphone in City Council chambers to deliver a pep talk worthy of his football team.

"There's one major difference in all this," said Spanos, the club's majority owner. "Winning is everything. We all know that. The Chargers are committed and dedicated to not only going to the Super Bowl every year, but to winning the game when we get there."

San Diego gets the peace of mind that another city will not be able to steal its football team. Even a complicated clause in the lease tied to changing economics in the NFL would allow the city first right of refusal to match any outside offer the Chargers might obtain.

"I can't conceive what it would be like to see the Chargers leave," said Councilman Scott Harvey.

December 29, 1996

Don Bauder

San Diego Union-Tribune

Tomorrow, a citizens' group demanding a referendum on the planned expansion of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium will present the City Council with 50,000 signatures. We must have such a referendum. And when the Padres ask for a new stadium, as they will, that must go to referendum, too.

The city's 1995 stadium enhancement deal with the Chargers was capped at $60 million. At some point between August and November of this year, the cap grew to $78 million, says J. Bruce Henderson, head of the pro-referendum group. Therefore, the 1995 deal is null and void, he says.

City Manager Jack McGrory says that $7 million of the additional $18 million results from costs of Henderson and his confreres battling the first deal in court. However, $11 million comes from "increases in the scope of the project," he allows.

Henderson says the city's deal with the Chargers is wacko. For example, the city says it will guarantee sales of 60,000 tickets a game, but the Chargers set the price of the tickets. "That gives the Chargers a cost-plus contract," he says, permitting them to pay excessive player salaries and pass the risk to the city.

Also, the Chargers after 2003 will have options every four years to shop the team to another city as long as they pay San Diego 60 percent of the amount necessary to redeem the outstanding debt on stadium construction.

McGrory denounces these criticisms and claims that under the new contract, the Chargers will pay the city $6.3 million a year, up from $3 million. "That is the best municipal lease in the National Football League," he says.

January 9, 1997

San Diego Reader

As an army of bulldozers, pile drivers, and concrete- cutting machines massed outside the gates of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium a week ago Monday night, the City Attorney, city manager, and a few lucky members of the city council were preparing to celebrate. As soon as the Holiday Bowl was over that night, the wrecking crew was poised to begin tearing down crucial parts of the 32-year-old stadium in preparation for the council's controversial $80 million-plus expansion plan.

Although the ostensible occasion was the Holiday Bowl, at least one of the city officials eating cake and sipping champagne inside the city's stadium press-level luxury skybox acknowledged that the real reason for their merriment was the impending start of the expansion project.

"They're having a great time of it in there," said one city council aide who scurried from the box just as the cake and bubbly were being wheeled through the box's closely guarded door from an adjoining hallway. "No one is going to stop them from taking down this stadium now. And once it's down, the taxpayers will be forced to pay to put it back together again, referendum or no referendum."

A jubilant Councilman Byron Wear, who exited the box with his wife during the second quarter, echoed the theme. Asked what the council was going to do about the referendum petition, which backers say contains more than 50,000 signatures gathered in a little more than two weeks and seeks a vote on stadium financing and expansion issues, Wear replied: "Nothing. Everything's going forward in terms of the expansion, per our previous decisions."

As Wear left the box for the movies with his wife, City Manager Jack McGrory, widely viewed as the chief architect of the stadium-expansion deal, arrived with his spouse to join the closed-door celebration. A lusty cheer could be heard as he entered the box. Others spotted sitting in the front rows of the box included councilmembers Harry Mathis and Barbara Warden, as well as City Attorney Casey Gwinn. All have been big backers of the stadium-expansion without a vote, and McGrory and Gwinn are two of the three directors of a so-called joint powers authority, which technically owns the stadium and leases it back to city taxpayers.

During the evening, the party in the city box hosted a succession of visitors, including Union-Tribune editor in chief Herb Klein, the ex-Nixon staffer and self-professed sports aficionado whose paper has supported expanding the stadium without a public vote.

January 9, 1997

San Diego Reader

The battle over whether San Diego voters will get a say in approval of that stadium-expansion deal with the Chargers is getting hotter, and local lawyers and campaign consultants are said to be lining up for a piece of the action. Already attorney Leo Sullivan, representing the San Diego International Sports Council, has challenged the validity of some of the 50,000-plus signatures gathered by the Stadium on the Ballot Committee, claiming that some were gathered by interlopers from Los Angeles and that others were improperly dated. A Sports Council affiliate currently runs the exclusive, members-only stadium club, scheduled for a multimillion-dollar facelift as part of the expansion plan.

January 28, 1997

Jerry Braun

San Diego Union-Tribune

Bruce Henderson has been called a liar, a loser, an obstructionist, and a doomsayer since he first dared challenge the orthodoxy about the Chargers lease.

The editorial page of the San Diego Union-Tribune urged him to leave town. The city threatened to sue.

"I've never seen such abuse," he said.

"Where is the man who's created this kind of havoc?" Chargers owner Alex Spanos asked with horror last week.

Clamor for a public vote on stadium expansion has snowballed for weeks as the cause swept up ex-mayors, newspaper columnists, talk-show hosts, and finally some 47,000 registered voters.

"Basically, it is a cost-plus contract," Henderson said. "The city is paying all the costs, plus guaranteeing the Chargers a profit. It is the best possible deal they could imagine, other than we give them the stadium. But I don't think they want the stadium. I think what they want to do is sell the team and leave town by 2004."

Not all of his allies hear those voices emanating from the contract. Nor do city officials, who hotly dispute his version. Nor the Spanoses, who deny any desire to leave town.

January 29, 1997

Letter to Chargers season-ticket holders from Chargers president Dean Spanos:

Don't let anyone doubt our commitment to this city. We signed this deal because of our commitment to San Diego. Only in the case of severe financial hardship for the team -- defined by very narrow, specific and confining conditions -- could we request to renegotiate with the City. Remember, San Diego is our home too.

The Chargers are honored to have been a part of the San Diego community for 36 years. We committed to a lease for another 25 years because we highly value our relationship with our fans, the organizations we support, and the city.

March 13, 1997

San Diego Reader

How does Susan Golding hope to become a U.S. senator? By raising millions from San Diego's biotech fat cats. That's part of a plan revealed by Golding handler and ex-boyfriend George Gorton in an interview with Roll Call magazine. "According to Gorton," the magazine wrote last week, "Golding has a file of about 7000 donors from her bids for local office and will make further inroads among the Westside Los Angeles Jewish community, the entertainment industry, and San Diego's flourishing biotechnology firms."

Golding's strategy of hitting up San Diego business interests for campaign cash "worked just fine for Pete Wilson," Gorton added. But Stockton multimillionaire and Chargers owner Alex Spanos, expected to play a big part in Golding's fundraising, is taking a low public profile. "One potential pitfall for Golding," Roll Call notes, "is the controversy swirling around her handling of a contract to expand the stadium where the Chargers play, a dispute that has made local headlines for months."

March 20, 1997

San Diego Reader

Over the past two years, Poway contractor Douglas Barnhart, along with 13 relatives and employees, has pumped $2745 into city councilwoman Barbara Warden's campaign war chest. During the same period, the Barnhart group gave a total of $2750 more to Warden's city council colleagues and City Attorney Casey Gwinn, adding up to one of the largest group donations to city hall politicos. Warden says the Barnhart money came to her because many Barnhart employees live in her district. Now comes word that earlier this month, only weeks after a judge ruled against putting the Chargers contract on the ballot, Barnhart and two associates were quietly awarded a no-bid, $125,000 city contract to provide "schematic drawings explaining how the Cantilevered Seating" at newly christened Qualcomm Stadium "will operate."

May 22, 1997

San Diego Reader

At a time when the city library budget is coming up short, taxpayers are picking up the tab for a variety of moving expenses run up by the Chargers coaching staff during the stadium expansion. Furniture rental for temporary trailer offices for staff and coaches is running $44,200. Renting the trailers themselves is costing $112,710. Building pedestrian ramps, decks, interior partitions, along with "miscellaneous accessories" for the trailers, ran $70,000. Installing phones and TV satellite gear cost $13,019.35, and taxpayers are forking over another $7750 for "voice and data communications" from an outfit called Teledata. Under standard city policy, none of the work was put out for public bid.

August 14, 1997

San Diego Reader

It was early May, and San Diego city manager Jack McGrory was worried. He and the city council had put city taxpayers on the hook for guaranteeing the sale of 60,000 seats for each Chargers game, and now he had to deliver.

But by May, McGrory knew he was in trouble. The general admission seats, which were the subject of the taxpayer guarantee, were not selling well at all, and the Chargers were spending their efforts marketing luxury suites and boxes not covered by the guarantee. A promised effort by the San Diego Chamber of Commerce to sell the seats had not materialized, and the San Diego International Sports Council, which had once promised to help sell the tickets, was now behind the scenes, demanding cash up front to get involved.

The solution? According to copies of electronic mail and other public records divulged by city hall last week under threat of legal action to enforce the state's public records disclosure act, McGrory hatched a secret plan: pay thousands of tax dollars to the Sports Council, even though the public had never been told of the costly scheme and the city council had never approved it, at least not in open session.

According to the records, during the early part of May, the pace was hectic and the direction was clear: get $15,000 to the Sports Council without delay and without notice to the public. There were no written proposals or consultations with others and no council hearings. Instead, McGrory first e-mailed his assistant Ernie Anderson on May 12, ordering him to come up with the funds.

"How do we get the Sports Council an advance to start their marketing efforts asap?" McGrory wrote Anderson at 2:24 in the afternoon of Monday, May 12.

"Do you have a number in mind?" Anderson wrote back at 5:00 p.m. the same day, asking McGrory to tell him how much money to come up with.

"15,000," McGrory responded at 9:13 that evening.

"Who is doing the footwork for you on this?" Anderson wrote McGrory at 6:03 p.m. the next day, May 13. "We need to put together an agreement, and as soon as that happens we'll give them the dough.... If I'm doing the footwork, who is the contact with the Sports Council, and what do we expect them to do?"

McGrory didn't answer Anderson's question about what the Sports Council was expected to do for its money. Instead, at 6:30, he wrote back: "Can you do it and deal with Bruce and Ky?" The reference to "Bruce" apparently was to Bruce Herring, another trusted McGrory aide often given top-secret fundraising projects, such as patching the huge funding holes created by last year's Republican convention. Ky apparently was Ky Snyder, the Sports Council's executive director.

Two days later, Anderson wired McGrory back with news of how things were going.

"fyi, I spoke with Ky and advised him we are going to contract with him during FY97 in the amount of $15,000 for marketing the Stadium. This is within our administrative authority to do and will not require Council action. It is NOT an advance of FY98 funding. We will finalize the contract and give him the money early next week. He said he will ACCELERATE his plans to accommodate that time frame."

On June 17, according to a copy of a memo in the City's records, Sports Council executive Ky Snyder provided Bruce Herring with a mixed report on the Sports Council's progress in selling the tickets.

"As we discussed at our last meeting, I have attached a copy of commitments pending and refusals in our marketing efforts. The main resistance to date is that medium-sized companies are not prepared to invest in blocks. We are having success in the payroll deduction area and believe this will create the most benefit in the long term."

As of today, the City has not revealed how much it will spend on the Sports Council or another marketing agent during fiscal year 1998, which began on the first of July. The City's Anderson says that the council has so far approved $150,000 for this fiscal year, although he isn't sure of the details. That amount, of course, is much less than the millions of dollars taxpayers may be forced to come up with if the marketing efforts are unsuccessful and a significant percentage of the 60,000-seat attendance guaranteed by the City does not materialize. McGrory has left that worry to his successors. He quit shortly after the Sports Council deal was revealed here in June.

September 16, 1997

Editorial

San Diego Union-Tribune

We got off to a bad start for the regular-season home opener: Not enough tickets were sold, television coverage was blacked out, the city may have to shoulder some cost for empty seats, and it was a lousy game.

The fans booed, and the team owner harrumphed. But let's keep things in perspective. The deal between the city and the Chargers lasts until 2020. Barring dire circumstances, the Chargers are our team at least until then. Since that's the case, we might as well enjoy it.

The stadium expansion and long-term lease represent a major new commitment to the Chargers by the city and the people of San Diego. Right now, with new coaching, an expanded stadium and a financial deal that some people don't like, the Chargers and their fans are in a transition period.

The Chargers, the chamber and the sports council promised a major effort to sell enough tickets for the stadium to reach the city's 60,000-seat guarantee. So far, that effort hasn't gone far enough, and the city may have to pay for it.

A privately funded program by the Chargers and local businesses to send a thousand kids to every football game would go a long way toward winning the support of San Diegans.

September 25, 1997

San Diego Reader

San Diego's first openly gay city councilwoman, Democrat Christine Kehoe, is pondering whether to run for Congress next year against GOP incumbent Brian Bilbray, and she's already hired the polling firm of Evans-McDonough to test the waters. At least one Coronado resident reports getting a call this week from the Berkeley-based pollster, which is asking voters' opinions on everything from Kehoe's gayness to her never-say-die support for the Chargers' stadium deal and its 60,000-seat ticket guarantee.

November 20, 1997

San Diego Reader

Word from good sources at city hall has it that the county grand jury has launched a major investigation of corruption charges involving the city's ticket guarantee contract with the Chargers. Under threat of subpoena, city officials have reportedly handed over hundreds of pages of secret minutes from the many closed sessions held by the city council in the months leading up to the approval of the controversial deal, which requires city taxpayers guarantee 60,000 seats be sold for each football game. And many city officials themselves expect to be subpoenaed in the case. "This one is really big," says an excited official. "I think they're trying to blow the lid off this place."

December 11, 1997

San Diego Reader

Although the Chargers' fortunes are sinking, stadium expansion costs continue to rise. The city council says it's trying to pinch pennies by using volunteers to paint the place, but expenses are rapidly mounting elsewhere. Handicapped advocates have sued the city, charging that the stadium upgrade was unfriendly to the disabled. Nobody's yet saying what the ultimate cost of fixing problems with seating and access might turn out to be, but informed sources say it could be millions. An early harbinger: last week the city manager added another $6000 to an earlier $15,000 contract with Dealy Development, the consultant retained to review as-yet-unpublicized reconstruction plans.

February 12, 1998

San Diego Reader

San Diego city councilman Byron Wear, who is facing what is shaping up as a serious challenge to his reelection this year, is tapping members of the wealthy Spanos family, getting $250 each from Dean Spanos, son of Alex Spanos, and Dean's wife Susan. Poway contractor Doug Barnhart, who built the new $10 million Chargers headquarters at taxpayer expense, chipped in $250.

April 2, 1998

San Diego Reader

The downtown law firm of Luce, Forward is closely connected to Alex Spanos, having repeatedly represented his football team in legal wrangles with disgruntled players. The firm was hired by the city council to defeat an effort by taxpayer activist Richard Rider to force the stadium deal onto the ballot. Though the firm also worked for Spanos, representing a legal conflict of interest, the city council, meeting secretly, agreed to waive the conflict and ultimately agreed to pay the firm at least a million tax dollars for its work to keep the stadium and convention-center issues off the ballot.

The law firm succeeded in its mission, convincing superior court judge Anthony Joseph to quash the taxpayers' suit against the stadium deal, but opposition to the ticket guarantee was mounting. By the middle of 1997, when Golding was required to file her first public accounting of her campaign fundraising, the Spanos connection with Golding was seen in the political world as unsavory.

The Spanos forces held back their contributions during the first half of 1997, and Golding was forced to report having received just $341,651.

After the midyear disclosure deadline, money from the Spanos clan and their related entities, including Luce, Forward, began to pour into Golding's campaign coffers. Disclosure reports later reveal that in the second half of 1997, direct Spanos contributions totaled $10,000. Luce, Forward employees gave a total of $6000.

Charles Bird, a partner in Luce, Forward who played a key role in arguing both the city's stadium and the convention-center cases in court, denies there was any sort of a quid pro quo between the campaign contributions to Golding and the firm's representation of city hall. "Absolutely not," Bird says, explaining that he thinks most of the Golding contributions from firm members were dated on the same day, December 12, because of a fundraising breakfast held that morning by an unnamed member of the firm. "The law firm makes no political contributions whatsoever," says Bird. "I believe that a partner who has long been a supporter of Susan Golding hosted a breakfast that day and invited other partners of the firm. I wasn't there to attend."

April 30, 1998

San Diego Reader

San Diego mayor Susan Golding, fresh from a mysterious three-week "vacation" away from pressing duties at city hall, hosted a KOGO radio talk show last week and quickly began hyping the much-maligned Chargers' ticket guarantee as a great deal for taxpayers. Then she took a call from quarterback Ryan Leaf and hyped the team some more. No mention was made of the $10,000 that relatives and employees of team owner Alex Spanos gave Golding's now-dead U.S. senate campaign last year.

May 14, 1998

San Diego Reader

San Diego city councilwoman Christine Kehoe ran afoul of the Union-Tribune earlier this year when she came out against the controversial Chargers ticket guarantee. Union-Tribune editorial writers claimed in January that the move was "political hypocrisy" and "tawdry grandstanding" motivated by Kehoe's congressional aspirations. "Despite Kehoe's pandering," went the editorial, "the stadium expansion is actually a very good deal for San Diego."

October 22, 1998

San Diego Reader

When the Chargers went to the Super Bowl in 1995, Mayor Susan Golding grabbed a free seat to Miami on the plane of owner Alex Spanos. Later, when a reporter started asking questions, then-city manager Jack McGrory asked Spanos to bill taxpayers for a $1000 first-class fare. This Monday, Golding returned from the World Series in New York, accompanied by Padres bigwigs on a chartered jet. The mayor's office was mum on how she paid for the junket.

January 4, 2000

Letter from county supervisor Ron Roberts to Mayor Susan Golding:

During the last three years, the public has been led to believe that the ticket guarantee is a great deal for the City of San Diego and that the Chargers are guaranteed to stay through the year 2020. Unfortunately, both of these claims seem to be myths.

It has become increasingly clear that the contract's ticket guarantee is in fact a serious ongoing financial liability for the City. Now is also appears that the contract contains a loophole allowing the potential for the Chargers to leave San Diego within the next few years.

March 27, 2000

Letter from Daniel S. Barrett to Assistant City Attorney Leslie J. Girard:

Barrett Sports Group, LLC (BSG), is pleased to present this engagement letter to provide consulting services to the City of San Diego (the City).

The City is interested in evaluating stadium lease alternatives in connection with the San Diego Chargers' existing lease at Qualcomm Stadium. In this phase, BSG will develop alternative lease proposals to be presented to the Chargers and assist in negotiations, as necessary.

BSG will develop a stadium cash-flow model to evaluate various lease alternatives to be presented to the Chargers. The model will be developed to allow for sensitivity testing of key variables under a variety of scenarios. The model will calculate the impact of lease revisions on both the City and the Chargers.

BSG will meet with City representatives to present preliminary draft lease alternatives. The lease alternatives will be delivered in presentation style format. BSG will meet with City representatives to develop a strategic approach to present the lease alternatives to the Chargers.

Based on the scope of services described in Phase I above, we would expect that our professional fees would not exceed $20,000.

April 6, 2000

San Diego Reader

San Diego city councilwoman Christine Kehoe, a staunch advocate of the Chargers' stadium deal until she flip-flopped when it became a political liability during her failed 1998 congressional race against Republican Brian Bilbray, returned to the stadium fray last week. Kehoe, who is currently running for a state assembly seat, was quoted as saying that Bruce Henderson and Richard Rider, two early critics of the stadium deal, didn't have "any special insights to the Chargers' future plans." That brought a sharp rebuke from Kehoe's Republican challenger, businesswoman Michele Nash-Hoff: "This is another example of Kehoe's lack of real-world business experience. Why should we expect Mr. Spanos to be loyal to San Diego? He isn't a San Diegan; he lives in Stockton. He is a pragmatic businessman who does what is best for his businesses, one of which is the Chargers. However, if you are a city councilmember, state Assembly member, or Congressional member, you should be doing what is best for your constituents, and Kehoe didn't regarding her votes on the stadium issue."

April 13, 2000

Suzy Hagstrom

San Diego Reader

Timing is everything. For self-employed journalist Evan Weiner, it was good. For Chargers football team owner Alex Spanos, it was bad.

Their chance encounter and brief conversation in the luxurious Breakers' hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, last month resulted in a scoop for Weiner and a public relations snafu for Spanos and his staff. Spanos expressed his desire for a new stadium to replace the recently remodeled Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, and Weiner parlayed that into a news story for TodaysSports.com, an Internet news service.

Caught off guard, sports writers for the San Diego Union-Tribune and the North County Times scrambled to catch up. They speculated whether Spanos would take the Chargers to another city and noted the awkward timing of his remarks.

That Spanos would say he wants a new stadium when the city appears overextended financially had at least one radio announcer wondering whether the 76-year-old multimillionaire was having "an elderly moment." A television broadcast suggested Spanos's comments to TodaysSports.com were "off the record," meaning not intended for publication. In a subsequent interview with the North County Times, Spanos said, "I was not taken in the right context." Chargers publicist Bill Johnston told the Union-Tribune, "Mr. Spanos feels bad about what happened. It didn't come out the way he meant it." Johnston did not return telephone calls from the Reader.

In further damage control last week, the Chargers published a full-page advertisement in the Union-Tribune featuring a letter signed by Spanos and his son, Dean Spanos. "The Chargers' mission to win may require us to build a new stadium that will generate the revenues needed to attract top players," they wrote. "Given the current climate, the Chargers do not expect the public to pay for such a stadium."

Weiner is annoyed by the notion that Spanos didn't realize he was being interviewed by a journalist. "The National Football League and the San Diego Chargers tried to put a spin on this later," Weiner said. "I don't want to be in a position of defending Alex Spanos, but he's a very smart man. He knew exactly what he was doing. He was quite clear, quite firm, quite direct. He's not being spoon-fed at this age of his life."

September 27, 2000

Dick Murphy for Mayor press release:

Citing poor ticket sales by the San Diego Chargers, mayoral candidate and Superior Court Judge Dick Murphy today said the Chargers organization might not be in full compliance of their contract with the City of San Diego.

"The City should insist that the Chargers live up to the contract, and if they do not, the City should file suit for damages and recover the ticket-guarantee money we have lost," Murphy said.

"As a person with both legal and marketing experience, I say the San Diego Chargers can do better, and the City must insist on that even if it means filing a lawsuit.

"The City has already lost approximately $5 million on the Charger ticket guarantee after only four games this year. This is an intolerable situation and the City must take action."

July 19, 2001

San Diego Reader

Richard Rider, among the first to oppose the Chargers ticket guarantee, is out with his critique of a recent NBC News "Fleecing of America" report on the deal. "The huge error in the story was the assertion that the Charger ticket guarantee cost San Diego taxpayers all of $2.5 million," Rider says. "Last year alone the taxpayer subsidy was over $8 million." He also attacks current critics of the agreement featured in the report, including San Diego County Taxpayers Association head Scott Barnett and Mayor Dick Murphy. "Barnett and the [Taxpayers Association] supported the Charger deal, going so far as to put out an elaborate (and badly flawed) spreadsheet purporting to show the financial soundness of the deal." As for the mayor, Rider notes, "Murphy has made no effort to try to amend the deal, or to require the Chargers to aggressively market the tickets as mandated by the terms of the ticket guarantee."

March 21, 2002

San Diego Reader

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.

March 24, 2002

Editorial

San Diego Union-Tribune

Now that powerful media, real estate, and financial moguls are seriously talking about building a privately financed football stadium in Los Angeles, Chargers fans and the City of San Diego have cause to worry about losing their team.

For any major metropolitan center, an NFL franchise is an important amenity that helps to attract businesses and spur other economic activity. Most importantly, professional football brings joy to San Diego sports fans, much like a symphony orchestra or the opera bring joy to classical music fans. As far as anyone knows for sure, the Chargers aren't going anywhere.

But there's widespread speculation that, beginning in 2004, when the lease with the city first allows the team to move, the Chargers would go if the ownership could find better digs.

Many would say that since the city signed a contract with the Chargers and fixed up the stadium to the tune of $78 million in 1997, we should just hold the team to the deal. The truth, which everybody now knows, is that the deal was oversold, to put it lightly. We were told the deal would keep the Chargers here until 2020 and allow for more Super Bowls because Qualcomm Stadium would be transformed into a first-class facility. But that turns out not to be true.

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