Whether the Chargers eventually depart for Los Angeles or not, it's a virtual certitude that San Diego's Republican mayor Kevin Faulconer is currently viewed as a shoo-in to be re-elected mayor, a wide spectrum of local political observers say.
With virtually no resistance from the city council, insiders note, Faulconer has turned the mayor's office into a one-stop shop for those seeking favor at city hall, raking in more than a million dollars for his 2016 campaign and related causes, including his One San Diego nonprofit charity, from an array of well-heeled special interests.
In addition, Faulconer’s political aides have made hay from the city's so-called strong mayor form of government, which places unprecedented power in the hands of the office and its holder, drawing the fire of critics, including Chargers lobbyist Mark Fabiani.
Among recent indications the mayor's good fortune will continue: A November 17 fundraiser hosted by Christine Trimble, vice president for government affairs at Qualcomm, which came up with $9275 for the mayor's re-election committee, according to a January 15 lobbying activity disclosure filing.
During the last mayoral go-around in the fall of 2013, following the fall of errant Democratic mayor Bob Filner, Qualcomm's billionaire cofounder Irwin Jacobs and his son Paul, then-company CEO, pulled hard for Nathan Fletcher, the onetime Republican Assemblyman turned Democrat who was hired as a Qualcomm executive after his first failed try at becoming mayor the previous year.
During the 2013 attempt, in which he faced off against Faulconer and Democrat David Alvarez, Fletcher and Qualcomm were targeted by the GOP Lincoln Club with a volley of nasty campaign mail challenging the integrity of both, prompting a sharp retort from the younger Jacobs.
"I was outraged to learn that the Lincoln Club of San Diego — a supposedly pro-business political group — would fund a political hit piece that unfairly and incorrectly attacks one of San Diego’s largest employers," said Jacobs in a letter to the club posted online.
"Is the Lincoln Club so desperate and out of constructive ideas that they are resorting to attacks on private employers, forsaking their supposed principles and lying to serve a political agenda?" he continued. "I demand a full apology and a retraction of this slanderous attack on our company and its more than 13,000 local employees."
The Union-Tribune, then owned by GOP power player Douglas Manchester, who poured campaign cash into the Faulconer cause, also took off the gloves, dispatching its then-investigative reporter Trent Seibert to hound Fletcher about his unreleased college transcripts and the amount of his Qualcomm salary for what the Lincoln Club said was a do-nothing job.
Following Fletcher's third place finish in the primary, Qualcomm executives began opening their checkbooks for Faulconer, the eventual victor over Democrat Alvarez. But whether Democrat Irwin Jacobs and his extended corporate family would back Faulconer's reelection bid in 2016 remained an open question during much of last year.
Fueling the speculation was the uncertain status of the Union-Tribune, which Manchester sold to Chicago-based Tribune Publishing in May.
The new owner installed publisher Austin Beutner, an ally of billionaire Los Angeles Democrat Eli Broad, a Jacobs friend widely known to have designs on acquiring the L.A. Times, also owned by Tribune, as well as the U-T.
At the same time, Fletcher's profile began to rise on the local rubber chicken circuit. Then, in September, he appeared at the side of president Barack Obama, a major beneficiary of Jacobs family political largesse, to endorse the president's nuclear agreement with Iran.
With Broad in charge of the San Diego paper, it was surmised, Jacobs and his hand-picked candidates might be able to overturn the political status quo here, traditionally favoring the GOP.
But Beutner was fired in a board room battle reportedly involving a failed Broad buyout bid, and the super-rich Angeleno said on December 8 — two weeks after Qualcomm's Faulconer fundraising function here — that there were no takeover plans in the works.