For years, Helen Copley, her son David, and the other powers that be at the San Diego Union-Tribune have wanted to replace Lindbergh Field, no matter how much money it might cost, no matter how much it might impact the environment, no matter how inconvenient it might be for travelers, and no matter whether county taxpayers wanted to pay for it or not. The paper has already made up its mind, such that its lust for airport relocation was almost palpable. "The single greatest threat to San Diego's economic fortunes is the lack of a full-service passenger and cargo airport to sustain the country's sixth-largest city in the 21st Century," thundered a January 2000 U-T editorial marking the dawn of the new millennium. "The sooner we choose a site for a bigger airport, the brighter San Diego's economic prospects will become."
Though other voices called for caution and recommended continued use of the venerable airport, citing its convenience and the historic difficulty and acknowledged expense of finding another location, the Union-Tribune has kept up its inexorable editorial drumbeat. By July 2001, the paper was aggressively pushing a proposal to take Lindbergh away from its traditional overseer, the Port of San Diego, and put it into the hands of a new regional "super agency," all the better to build a giant "mega-port" in parts as yet unknown.
"With a single, relatively short runway, Lindbergh Field is plainly inadequate to serve the region's air transportation needs in the 21st Century. Within a decade or so, access roads serving San Diego's bantam airport will reach gridlock," the editors warned.
The new airport authority was needed, the Union-Tribune said, to circumvent local troublemakers who had long stood in the way of progress. "Because of predictable parochial opposition to any potential replacement site, this region has failed for nearly half a century to come to grips with its airport dilemma."
The new superpowered airport authority would "overcome chronic NIMBYism," the editorial went on to say. The paper wanted a hand-picked board of directors that had already made up its mind that the airport should be moved and would brook no opposition from those who said, "Not in my back yard."
"For starters, the new airport authority would be composed of nine private citizens representing every corner of the county -- three named by the City of San Diego, one named by the Board of Supervisors, one named by the San Diego Unified Port District, and one each from inland North County, coastal North County, the South Bay, and East County. Significantly, the authority members would be appointed, rather than elected, and serve long five-year terms.
"The aim is to insulate the board from political pressures that for years have paralyzed local elected officials on the airport issue. Appointed, rather than elected, members are essential for the airport board to make decisions that serve the broad interests of San Diego County as a whole."
For months leading up to legislative consideration of the proposal, sponsored by Democratic state senator Steve Peace, the Union-Tribune flogged the issue in editorial after editorial. "The need for stronger regional decision-making is too glaring for this issue to go away. San Diego's legislative delegation should not try to hide it under the table," the paper argued in August 2001.
Then in September: "For San Diego County, one of the most important bills to be heard in Sacramento this year would create a regional airport authority to find a replacement for overburdened Lindbergh Field."
Less than two weeks later, the paper wrote, "Although this legislation certainly is not flawless, it is a significant first step. It deserves passage by the Assembly and the signature of Governor Gray Davis."
And again on September 29, after the bill cleared the Assembly, "For San Diego, the most critical measure on Governor Gray Davis's desk awaiting signature or veto is Assembly Bill 93. This legislation would create the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, whose mission would be to find a replacement site for cramped Lindbergh Field."
In the end, most local political observers agreed, it was no surprise that Gray Davis signed the U-T's favorite airport bill, given the local muscle that the newspaper and its allies in the local chamber of commerce had put behind it.
And Steve Peace, the termed-out, badly discredited Democrat who had also authored the state's disastrous utility-deregulation bill, had been all too happy to fall in behind the U-T-led juggernaut, especially when he was rewarded with a series of flattering columns cranked out by the paper's Neil Morgan.
In October 2002, Morgan, just back from a European vacation, described one of his frequent lunchtime "roundtables" with San Diego's would-be power brokers. "Chasing San Diego politicians after chasing Rail Europe's high-speed trains, I find Mayor Dick Murphy and Steve Peace, the retiring state senator, seated amiably around a luncheon table. Antennae shoot up when a powerful lawmaker is at liberty.
"Our Republican mayor is hoping Governor Gray Davis will appoint the Democratic senator to one of the three salaried jobs on the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, which takes over Lindbergh Field on January 1," Morgan went on to report, and then ended by quoting Dick Murphy:
" 'Steve is a strong figure,' Mayor Murphy says, 'and that's why I hope we get him on the airport authority. If those appointees aren't strong, they won't get any more done about an airport than we have for the past 50 years.' "
In the end, neither Peace nor then-city councilman Byron Wear — who also coveted one of the three top spots on the new airport board, each of which pays $139,000 a year under terms of Peace's bill — made the final cut. Peace chose to return to Sacramento, where he became state finance director in the disastrous, debt-laden final days of Governor Gray Davis. Wear, termed out of his city-council seat and battered by ethics charges, was forced to pull out of the running and to leave public life.
Instead of Wear, Murphy appointed Joe Craver, a retired Air Force colonel, aerospace-contracting consultant, and faithful Murphy campaign contributor. Governor Davis chose Xema Jacobson, business manager for the AFL-CIO's San Diego County Building & Construction Trades Council, clearly likely to favor any kind of new construction. Jacobson had also served as public-works enforcement representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569.
The third seat, to be appointed by San Diego County Sheriff Bill Kolender, was filled shortly before Davis made his selection. But why was the sheriff, of all people, given the right to appoint the county's representative on the airport board? As Morgan put it in his October 2002 column, "Kolender's curious role came with an amendment that Peace pushed through the Legislature in its closing days and is a Peace rebuff to Supervisor Ron Roberts. Peace says he found Murphy more amenable to his ideas of consolidation."
Not everyone agreed with Neil Morgan's version of reality; many discounted the "Steve Peace seeking vengeance against Ron Roberts" story. More cynical observers noted that Kolender, a former Union-Tribune executive, was loyal to Helen and David Copley, the paper's owners, and could be counted on to install a boardmember who would more than support their long-held desire to move the airport, no matter what the environmental or financial costs. Peace, this theory went, had simply accommodated his powerful friends in the press.
When Kolender's pick was revealed on November 9, 2002, in a glowing story on page B-1 of the Union-Tribune, the cynics were not surprised. "Philanthropist nominated for regional airport panel," the headline blared. An enthusiastic story followed. "William D. Lynch, a Rancho Santa Fe businessman and philanthropist, whose foundation backs children's literacy programs, has been named one of three executive directors of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority."
"I hope to bring some common sense in the analysis" of options for a new regional airport, said Lynch, who applied for the county government's appointment to the airport executive committee after being personally wooed by government officials and others. "And I believe, hopefully, that I can bring something to building a consensus, which is what this is going to take," he said.
In an echo of its many editorials citing the economic benefits of a new airport, the story quoted Kolender as saying that "Lynch 'understands that the airport is one of the foundations of economic development of this county.' " The piece went on to say that "the appointment must be confirmed by the county Board of Supervisors, but Lynch is expected to receive strong backing."
Then, after extolling Lynch's business acumen and charitable activities, way at the very bottom of the U-T story was, by way of partial disclosure, this final sentence: "His foundation also supports the San Diego Union-Tribune's annual Dr. Seuss Race for Literacy, which benefits the San Diego Council on Literacy (on whose board Lynch serves)."
As the newspaper predicted, Lynch was easily confirmed by the county board of supervisors two weeks later. Then the three paid members of the new airport board, known as the panel's "executive committee," along with the nonsalaried members who receive a $100-per-meeting stipend, were sworn in and began work in January of this year.
And there the story might have ended but for Lou Conde, a sometimes irascible, always engaging 76-year-old former county supervisor and veteran of the county's 1970s growth wars, who also claims credit for being the original father of the San Diego Trolley. The Cuban-American Conde, who is famous for staring down his opponents with fierce blue eyes, says that something is rotten in the way Sheriff Bill Kolender selected William Lynch for the airport board. Conde had wanted that job on the board, and when he was denied even an interview with Kolender, he decided to find out why. What he discovered, he insists, was a crime worthy of Tammany Hall's Boss Tweed.
"I arrived here in 1956," Conde says by way of introduction during a recent interview. "I am the father of five children attending public schools, graduating here with six university degrees between them. I am a political science graduate from Brigham Young University, 1951. I have been active in politics since 1952. When I came to San Diego I was active in school affairs. In 1969 I started a citizens taxpayers group called Taxpayers Concerned. We were involved with the political aspects of the local elected officials. We mounted a referendum against elected officials.
"We mounted a referendum against a board of supervisors at that time -- in 1972, I believe it was, maybe '71 -- protesting a very heavy salary increase that they voted themselves. I was in favor of a partial increase, told them so when I addressed the board. They went ahead with a full increase. Our group took to the streets. We mounted a referendum that was successful. The board had to back down and rescind their action to increase their salary. I then sued the Unified School District here in San Diego for using an education office, an office at the education center, to run a campaign to pass bond issues. That is in violation of state law. I took them into court.
"I next sued the Registrar of Voters and successfully stopped them from always listing the incumbent at the head of the ticket. And now they're forced to rotate the names around because we enforced [that order] on the list is preferential. A lot of people didn't know any better; they'd vote for the first name they see. That was about that same time. Then after I was elected to the board in November of '72 and I took office January the eighth of '73. We had a very contentious board. There were many 3-2 decisions on many issues."
When he ran for the board of supervisors in 1972, Conde faced off against incumbent Republican Jack Walsh. "He was just pushing all sorts of liberal issues. He wanted to put halfway houses in residential neighborhoods. He just had many liberal-type philosophies. I can't remember them all exactly at this moment in time. A nice guy, but his politics were terrible as far as we were concerned," Conde recalls.
After he got elected, Conde says he presided over the genesis of the San Diego Trolley. The county's Comprehensive Planning Organization, then responsible for coming up with taxpayer-funded mass-transit proposals, was pushing a subway-like system like the one called BART then being built in San Francisco, rather than the so-called light-rail system ultimately adopted for the San Diego Trolley.
"The CPO came in front of the board and they wanted some so-called experts from San Francisco who'd been consultants in the BART system and they wanted to build a BART-type mass-transit system in San Diego. That's a heavy-rail system; it runs on its own glide-way. It's a very, very expensive proposition. You have to buy the right of way. There was no need for something that moved rapidly. We were not taking people from one distance to another; we were trying to pick up people maybe from San Diego to National City to Chula Vista to the border, so there was no way we needed something that ran at 60, 70 miles an hour.
"So I proposed a light-rail system. On a 3-2 vote we formed the County Department of Transportation on my motion. Again on my motion we gave [the project to] the county engineer, under whom we put the County Department of Transportation to study the mass-transit problem and come back with a report. I then took that report to [Democratic state senator] Jim Mills.
"Jim Mills studied it, and he was the transportation guy in the state senate. He was a senator from the South Bay area. He agreed with the study, and he put a law through the state senate that said that no gas-tax money could be used for a heavy-rail system in San Diego County. So that pretty well shot CPO out of the transportation business, and we proceeded to build the trolley.
"Nobody can argue the fact — although many people have tried to take credit for the San Diego Trolley — that I was the guy who formed the trolley system, caused it to happen."
But in politics, you're only as good as your last election, as Conde was soon to discover. In 1975, Conde had opposed then-mayor Pete Wilson's effort to move the airport to Brown Field on the border. Worse yet, he had endorsed city councilman Lee Hubbard for mayor against Wilson. Soon, an opponent materialized against him. Conde remembers a meeting he had at the time with Gordon Luce, then head of San Diego Federal Savings and Loan and a major Republican functionary.
"I said, 'I understand, Gordon, that Pete Wilson is going to endorse Roger Hedgecock against me.' He said, 'I've been hearing that rumor too. Why don't you go down and talk to him, go down and see him?' So I made an appointment and went to see him, and I sat there with him in his office on a Friday afternoon and said, 'Well, Pete, I'm hearing rumors that you might endorse Roger Hedgecock.'
"And he said to me, 'Well, I haven't made up my mind yet, and you'll be the first to know. You endorsed Lee Hubbard against me.' I said, 'Yes, I endorsed Lee Hubbard because I remember when you came to town, Pete, and you ran against Frank Curran, and your main complaint against Frank Curran was eight years is enough. I believe it now. I ran on that basis, that eight years is enough. So I don't believe in people camping in public office forever. So yes, I endorsed Lee because he said he was only serving one term as a city councilman; he would serve one term as mayor.' 'Well,' he says, 'I haven't made up my mind.'
"Well, that was a bold-faced lie. A lie. Because Monday-morning invitations to a fundraiser for Roger Hedgecock hosted by the mayor started hitting mailboxes in San Diego. Whatever Petey-boy wanted, Helen Copley gave him. So Helen Copley gave the endorsement of the newspaper to Roger Hedgecock, which was a factor in my losing the election."
Having been unceremoniously turned out of office by county voters, Conde shucked it all and lit out for parts more pleasurable, namely his home state of Florida, looking for apartments as investments. "So I bought these units in Miami, and then after a short time, in '82, I bought a 51-foot sailboat, and I lived aboard it for 6 years, bumming around all over the place, owned it for 12.
"You can't grow up in Miami Beach without being on the water or in the water or under the water. So I did all of that. I was a certified scuba diver, and the place to sail was in the Caribbean. The water's warm, the water's clear. There's all sorts of sea life. It's beautiful -- the colors and the little islands with palm trees or pine trees and so on. So I wanted to kick back and do some of that, and my income was coming in from my apartment house. I had a resident manager. It was 34 units at that time, so I didn't need to be around all the time."
He married a woman he met during his travels and lived for a time with her on Majorca, but when Conde's days of idyll eventually came to an end, he found himself heading back to San Diego. "My wife and I separated in '96, the divorce was final in '98. I sold my boat. My kids and grandkids — I have three daughters and nine grandkids here in San Diego County. Three out of my five kids live here. Grandpa, come home! That was in December of '01. I traded the equity in my last apartment house in Miami for the equity in a retail center in La Mesa on El Cajon Boulevard. That provides the income for me now."
But the former supervisor wasn't interested in an idle old age and soon began casting around for ways to get back into public life. The news that Sheriff Bill Kolender would make an appointment to the airport board caught his attention. "It was in probably September of 2002 or so when I saw this article, 'Seven Applicants Hope to Steer Airport Policy' and so on, and it had mentioned what the procedure would be, they could get applications down at the clerk of the board's office, and I thought, hey, I could do that.
"Kolender had been picked to choose the guy that would then have to be confirmed by at least three members of the board of supervisors. Well, I had to log in with the clerk in order to get an application. So he took my name — I had to sign the log — he dated the hour, the minute, the date that I got the application. I had to bring it back by a certain time on a certain day, and I did that, and I had to log back in, had to sign my name again. He date-stamped my application.
"I had read in the paper, and here's this Kolender, who plans to interview a handful of finalists, who said he expects his recommendation to reach the supervisors at a November meeting. I wrote the sheriff a letter. He knew who I was; he knew me on a first-name basis for, like, 30 years now. I'm telling him I'm Hispanic, I'm 100 percent Latin, I would love to serve on this board. I gave him all my qualifications."
When Conde never heard back from the sheriff, he says he became suspicious, and as he learned more about the selection process, his doubts only grew stronger. A story in the Union-Tribune about the upcoming selection got his attention: "Familiar names of 23 applicants to represent the county government include Colonel Greg Goodman, Chief of Staff at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station; philanthropist William D. Lynch of Rancho Santa Fe; and Louis Conde, who served on the Board of Supervisors from 1972 to 1976."
"When I got ahold of the list I called up two friends of mine who were politically savvy in this county, and I said, let me read some names to you, and let me know if you know who they are. When I got to Lynch, both of these people said — and they weren't together at the time, separate — he's gonna be your main opposition 'cause he's a close friend of the sheriff. And that certainly turned out to be true.
"So I read every application turned in to the clerk. Probably the only guy who has done that. And Lynch's application was not there. It had not been acquired nor submitted to the clerk of the board, even though that was the instruction on the front page of the application.
"So I wrote a letter to the clerk of the board, and I hand-carried it there, and I requested, like, three copies of three applications, and I'd given the names. His was one of them. And the clerk came back, and she did not have his application. This was long after the end of the application period.
"So the clerk of the board still did not have a copy of Lynch's application. Then I called the sheriff's department, and it took me, like, three days to procure from them a copy of Lynch's application.
"This is the strange thing. Lynch's application is different than everybody else's application; does not read the same at all. It has different phone numbers and has an inclusive paragraph that is not included in the other applications. I don't know where the devil that came from. Somebody should find out."
But is it really likely, as Conde alleges, that Sheriff Kolender rigged the selection process in favor of an old crony and campaign contributor? And was the Union-Tribune involved, as Conde also maintains? Conde says the newspaper went out of its way to downplay his objections — outlined in a press conference a week before Lynch was confirmed in a hurry-up vote by the county board of supervisors — to the way Lynch was picked by Kolender and confirmed by the board.
"I held a press conference on the steps of the County Administration Center, and I had a lot of the applicants there — there were, like, 10 or 11 of them," Conde recounts. "Jeff Ristine, who was covering the Airport Authority for the Union-Tribune came down there, interviewed these people. They told him how upset they were that they had not even been interviewed, that someone had been picked who wasn't as qualified and didn't even get a chance to get interviewed. Nothing happened. That article never appeared, so the public in San Diego never knew that there were a bunch of disgruntled applicants who were upset that they hadn't even been talked to by the sheriff."
Kolender has long enjoyed close ties to the Union-Tribune. A local boy whose father ran a jewelry store on lower Broadway, Kolender joined the San Diego Police Department in 1956. During the 1960s antiwar and civil-rights turmoil, Kolender's role as a community-relations officer allowed him to rise quickly through the ranks. He began to rub shoulders with the new Republican political establishment led by the city's ambitious mayor, Pete Wilson, who made him chief of police; and fortified by Helen Copley, who had inherited the Union-Tribune from her old-school Republican husband, Jim Copley.
After 13 years as Mayor Pete Wilson's handpicked chief, Kolender suddenly stepped down in August 1988. His new job: assistant general manager of the Union-Tribune. The move followed by two years a 1986 ticket-fixing scandal, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, involving members of the Chargers, for which Kolender was reprimanded by the city manager. A series of racially tinged police shootings in 1987, combined with a lingering mystery about the 1985 slaying of prostitute and police informant Donna Gentile, added to the controversy surrounding the departing police chief.
The undistinguished nature of Kolender's tenure at the Union-Tribune led many to conclude that the ex-law enforcement honcho was there to keep tabs on publisher Helen Copley's son David, who had been arrested for drunk driving in 1986 and again in South Mission Beach in December 1989 and had a general reputation for being dissolute. But Kolender also allegedly played a high-profile role in Copley's long-running combat with the Newspaper Guild, the reporters' labor union that was waging an ultimately unsuccessful battle for its survival against Copley's efforts to oust it from the plant.
The Los Angeles Times reported that in December 1989, as a midnight strike deadline approached, Kolender positioned himself at the employee-exit turnstile of the newspaper and checked to see if anyone was making off with company property. He reportedly confiscated a Rolodex belonging to reporter Joe Gandelman, who said the address-card index belonged to him; Kolender told a television station he thought it had been purchased with U-T funds and therefore couldn't be taken from the plant. The incident led Newspaper Guild president Ed Jahn to tell a rally of supporters that the ex-chief was "behaving like a Kmart security guard." (In an interview last week, Kolender denied that the incident had occurred.)
During his time at the U-T, Kolender often found himself written up on the pages of the competing San Diego edition of the L.A. Times. Kolender had become known for his "rat pack" of macho male friends in high places, including football players, former white-collar criminals, real estate developers, journalists, public relations people, and local politicos, many of whom he hung out with during happy hours at Bully's East tavern in Mission Valley. The Union-Tribune maintained discretion in its coverage of Kolender; the Times did not.
In 1988, the Times reported that Kolender had written a letter in support of a pardon for Dominic "Bud" Alessio, who served time on a federal felony rap. Alessio had lavished gifts on a prison official who gave preferential treatment to Dominic's father John and uncle Angelo, in prison at the time for income-tax evasion. John Alessio was a protégé of fallen financier C. Arnholt Smith; he also once operated the Caliente racetrack and sports book in Tijuana.
"Bud was a victim of circumstances and did what any son would do for his father," Kolender wrote in a letter uncovered by the Times using the federal Freedom of Information Act. The Times story pointed out that federal organized-crime prosecutors "considered the case far more serious. They contended that prison officials were bribed with food, lodging, and entertainment gifts in return for allowing John and Angelo Alessio to conduct secret rendezvous with women friends. In all, six people were convicted or pleaded guilty in the case."
In an interview with the Times, Kolender further explained his position. "I think that, under the circumstances, he deserves a pardon. He's contributed to his community. He's served his time. He did something for his father, he made a mistake, and he paid for it."
Kolender lasted barely three years in his job with the Copley Press before being called to Sacramento in 1991 by his erstwhile boss in San Diego, Pete Wilson. The new governor put his ex-chief of police in charge of the California Youth Authority, where Kolender remained until making his triumphant return to San Diego and being elected sheriff in 1994 against Jim Roache, the hapless incumbent who had been repeatedly vilified for alleged mismanagement of the department and county jails.
Re-elected twice since, Kolender's humming campaign organization has been well oiled over the years with contributions from his intricate network of friends. During his 2002 race against a virtual unknown, records showed Kolender collected and spent more than $75,000. Union-Tribune publisher David Copley gave $500. Members of the Alessio family, who each gave $500, include Frank, Virginia, Linda, Katherine, and Dominic. And Robert DePhilippis, owner of the Butcher Shop restaurant in Kearny Mesa as well as the Filippi's Pizza Grotto chain, gave $600. Craig Ghio, owner of Anthony's restaurants, gave $100.
John Davies, the ex-college roommate and longtime political advisor to former governor and San Diego mayor Pete Wilson, chipped in $250; Rayma Craver, the wife of retired Air Force colonel Joe Craver, the military-contracting consultant and chamber of commerce supporter, as well as Lynch's colleague-to-be on the airport board's executive committee, gave $150. San Diego Unified School District superintendent Alan Bersin, a former U.S. attorney, gave $500, as did Bersin's wealthy father-in-law, real estate developer and garment-maker Stanley Foster.
Kolender also drew support from the local media, including KFMB sportscaster Ted Leitner ($500); San Diego magazine publisher James Fitzpatrick ($500); McGraw-Hill television executive Ed Quinn ($100); and writer Joseph Wambaugh ($500). Bazaar del Mundo owner Diane Powers gave $300; lawyer Vince Bartolotta, Jr., contributed $500; as did Coronado financier Thomas Stickel.
Perhaps the most intriguing name on the sheriff's list of donors is that of Michael Blevins. Blevins is an ex-drug dealer who in October 1988 was sentenced to three years in federal prison for his role in a methamphetamine manufacture and distribution conspiracy that took place in Rancho Santa Fe. After he got out of the pen, Blevins founded the diet-drug maker Metabolife with Michael Ellis, his codefendant in the methamphetamine case. Ellis (who pleaded guilty and was given five years' probation) and his wife Monica each gave Kolender $500.
Another faithful Kolender campaign donor — and by all accounts a member of the sheriff's inner circle, as Conde is eager to point out — is none other than the sheriff's appointee to the airport board. "Bill Lynch has been a longtime contributor to the sheriff," says Conde.
By Conde's estimate, based on his examination of county campaign filings, Lynch, his family, and at least one business associate have given the Kolender campaign a total of at least $3000.
And Kolender has not been the only beneficiary of Lynch's campaign largesse, notes Conde, citing campaign disclosure records.
Lynch and family, says Conde, have contributed at least $2000 to various members of the board of supervisors.
"They did not have to rubber stamp the sheriff's choice. However, they did," Conde says. "The process used in receiving the applications for this job was totally dishonest because it gave the impression to the citizens of this county that they would seek applications from interested and qualified people, evaluate them, interview the most qualified, and pick one. That never happened. We were not interviewed. The most qualified people were never interviewed by the sheriff. This was a preapproved appointment, and it was a total charade that took place in the solicitation of applications.
"I think this is malfeasance by elected officials in order to reward a proven past — and assured future — campaign contributor, and that's what I think happened here. That's why he got the job and nobody else even got interviewed."
Reached by phone last week, Lynch discounted Conde's assertions that political contributions from members of Lynch's staff and his family had anything to do with his ultimate selection by Kolender and confirmation by the board of supervisors. "I can't believe that those people made a decision based on a couple of thousand of dollars of campaign contributions. But I guess it's a free country and anybody can say anything they want."
Regarding his relationship with Kolender, he said, "He encouraged me, and he encouraged a couple of other — or three people — to apply." He added, "I can't remember who they were; that was more than a year ago." Lynch also said that he now has only a vague recollection of whether the Union-Tribune had backed his appointment. "I don't have a clue, I don't recall," he said. "Probably they did. I suppose they were supportive. I really don't remember."
Lynch acknowledged that, unlike some of the other applicants for the job, he furnished no letters of recommendation. "I did have one letter of recommendation from my young granddaughter, saying that I should get the job because I was about as smart as she was," he said facetiously, adding that his business and investment expertise made him well suited for tenure on the airport commission. "If you want to know about my qualifications and how I'm doing, ask some of my fellow boardmembers." Regarding the events surrounding his ultimate selection by the sheriff and Conde's allegations that the outcome was foreordained, Lynch said he had no inside knowledge of how he was picked. "You'd have to ask Kolender about the process."
As to whether he has already made up his mind to support construction of a new airport, Lynch said, "At some point it's almost imperative. One runway doesn't do it. You have huge capacity problems that need to be dealt with."
For his part, Kolender said that in the year since Lynch's nomination was made, he had forgotten many of the details of the selection process but denied Conde's assertion that the sheriff had briefly interviewed only one other contender besides Lynch. "I interviewed three or four people, but I won't tell you who they are because that would be unfair to those who didn't get it. It wouldn't be fair," the sheriff said by telephone last week. He added that he also could not remember whether he had invited Lynch to apply for the job.
Kolender was also hazy as to whether he had discussed the matter of the airport appointment with anybody representing the Union-Tribune. "I don't remember," he said. "I'm not trying to be evasive, but I don't recall talking to anybody about it. It's possible, but I don't remember." And, until reminded by an aide, he said he didn't recall that Steve Peace had authored the bill that gave the sheriff the appointment power. "That was a long time ago."
Kolender also rejected Conde's allegation that the Lynch family's contributions to the sheriff's reelection campaign had biased his judgment. "I've gotten literally thousands of contributions," Kolender said. "I can't be bought for that." On the question of Lynch's qualifications, the sheriff said, "Ask Joe Craver if I made a good choice. He's on the commission." Then he opened fire on Conde. "Here's something I was offended by. Conde wrote me a letter saying, 'I need the money, Bill Lynch doesn't.' I have a copy of it right here." Asked if he could provide a copy of the letter via fax, the sheriff declined. "No. Take me at my word or not. I'm not faxing anything."
Conde provided a copy of a handwritten letter he said he delivered to Kolender on December 2, 2002, which he says is the one the sheriff referred to:
We have known each other on a first-name basis for almost 30 years. I am not enjoying questioning your choice for appointment to the Regional Airport Authority. As you know, Channel 10 is now on the story. Mr. Lynch has admitted that you solicited him to apply. Bill, this is not going to play well when the public finds out that your choice is woefully unqualified.
Please ask Mr. Lynch to gracefully decline the appointment. "I've come to the realization that with my many business interests I will not be able to apply the necessary time and energy to this very important position" would be a suggested statement.
Many applicants will be there tomorrow to protest your choice.
If this procedure is undertaken, then please reexamine my application again. I have been involved in Lindbergh Field issues, as you can see, for more than 27 years.
It is not my desire to embarrass you in any way, but I am the most qualified applicant and I can use the income, while Mr. Lynch doesn't need it.
Conde is convinced the "inside deal" he alleges between Kolender, Lynch, and the Union-Tribune will result in the airport commission's "rubber stamp" of a new airport that could end up costing county taxpayers billions of dollars.
The ex-county supervisor insists he was joking about needing the money. And he says he wasn't the only applicant more qualified than Lynch who was passed over by the sheriff. He cites Jack Bewley, a retired Navy fighter pilot who also flew for PSA and USAir, as a case in the point. Says Bewley, "It was perfectly legal, but they didn't select the best applicant. I did not even attempt to get political backing; I had a list of pretty close to a hundred leaders in the aviation community who backed me. Unfortunately they were never called. There were no guidelines in the legislation [for] setting up the process, so the sheriff said, 'I'll pick my buddy.' I walked away shaking my head.
"I was very, very highly qualified, and I could have done an extraordinary job of putting things together. In the military I was a commanding officer of squadrons and air wings, and I had the leadership ability and had already demonstrated that. They need to give that board a course in Airports 101 to get them up to speed."
Adds Conde, "On Lynch's application he said he didn't know anything about aviation; he had never been involved in administration of large projects. I mean, he had an application that would have been thrown in the round file by any business executive looking for someone to fulfill the duties called for in this position, but he wound up getting the job. I challenge anyone to put the five applications I will submit to them, put them side by side and evaluate them — one, two, three, four, five — and show me that William Lynch would have come out on top. He probably would have come out on the very bottom."