Circle of Friends

A firm run by San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders's key political advisor has lobbied city hall during the run-up to Sanders’s re-election bid, raising conflict-of-interest questions for a mayor who has repeatedly touted his ethical purity. Tom Shepard, who copped a criminal plea in the 1985 campaign money-laundering case against fallen mayor Roger Hedgecock, operates Public Policy Strategies, billed on its website as “the public policy division” of Tom Shepard and Associates. According to a lobbying disclosure statement filed on October 31 of last year, Public Policy Strategies has been lobbying San Diego City officials on behalf of six clients: San Diego State University, the Barona Band of Mission Indians, the San Diego Film Commission, San Diego Medical Services Enterprise, Redflex Traffic Systems, and Authorized City Towing. Each client is listed as paying the firm between zero and $5,000 during the three-month reporting period ending September 30; the deadline for 2007’s year-end filing is this January 31. (Under a new lobbying ordinance that went into effect the first of this year, contract lobbyists must file revised registration and disclosure forms if they meet the new ordinance’s $1 threshold for income from each client. 2007 registrations automatically ended January 5; an assistant clerk said this week that Public Policy Strategies had not yet filed under the new provisions.)

The lobbying firm has handled such hot-button issues as the expansion of San Diego State into nearby neighborhoods, a move bitterly opposed by many local residents; Shepard’s firm and another lobbying outfit, MNA Consulting, received a $136,130 state-funded contract for that work last year.

Past corporate clients have included Sempra and Wal-Mart. Australian-based Redflex is a maker of the controversial red-light cameras popular among city officials desperate for new sources of cash. San Diego Medical Services Enterprise is a firm that operates the City’s paramedic program. Kimberly Hale, listed as a Public Policy staffer, is an ex–“community relations” director of the film commission. She is married to Darren Pudgil, chief of staff to San Diego county supervisor Ron Roberts, who conveniently happens to be a big Sanders backer, so much so that Roberts appeared onstage with the mayor during his state-of-the-city message earlier this month to promote yet another attempt to reform firefighting efforts in the wake of the disastrous fall blazes.

Shepard, whose past political clients have included Roberts, city councilmen Brian Maienschein and Scott Peters, as well as ex-mayor Susan Golding, has been at the center of the Sanders political operation ever since Sanders’s first mayoral race three years ago. Unlike past mayors such as Pete Wilson, who relied heavily on the expertise of chief of staff Bob White and press secretary Otto Bos, Sanders has only press secretary Fred Sainz, a former GOP operative, to do his in-house political bidding, making the 60-year-old Shepard more crucial than ever to the incumbent mayor. Shepard is also closely aligned with Padres owner John Moores, for whom he was a consultant during the team’s successful bid for a taxpayer-subsidized downtown stadium.

While Sanders is clearly an admirer, candidates who have lost at Shepard’s hands are predictably not. “He is not a class act,” city councilwoman Donna Frye proclaimed after her defeat by Sanders in November 2005. “He’s prone to gutter-type politics.… There is no level so low that he will not sink to it.”

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