The National Football League, known for its cast of loyal political bedfellows, has just picked up yet another apprentice, said by insiders to be enticed by the enormous pile of cash the league's mega-billionaire owners could muster on behalf of his putative bid for higher office.
So important to Kevin Faulconer's political future is his deal with Stockton's billionaire Spanos family that the San Diego mayor's close associate and longtime political guru Jason Roe, infamous for the ethics questions raised against him by Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani, has abruptly disappeared from the city-hall scene.
Two years ago, Roe personally took charge of the stadium fray on behalf of his boss, dispatched by Faulconer to ride herd on a task force created by the mayor to come up with his version of a new Chargers venue.
"Mark is making it more complicated but it doesn’t mean we’re going to give up on trying to do this,” Roe told the Union-Tribune on January 16, 2015, after Fabiani had roundly bashed Faulconer's stadium-building efforts, along with longtime downtown-establishment insider and mayoral backer Steve Cushman.
"If you were going to line up the people in San Diego who have done the most to block a new stadium over the years, there is no doubt that Steve Cushman would be near the head of that line,” said Fabiani.
A month later, Fabiani opened fire on Roe directly, questioning the Faulconer consultant's side role as a lobbyist for stadium vending giant Delaware North, then seeking to win the exclusive food-and-beverage contract for Qualcomm Stadium.
"When the meeting between the Chargers' representative and the Task Force began, your chief political consultant, Jason Cable Roe, sat with the Task Force throughout the entire meeting," said Fabiani in a February 17 letter to the mayor.
"What legal and ethical issues are raised by Mr. Roe's dual role as an apparent de facto Task Force member and as a registered lobbyist for the Delaware North company, which is bidding to become the new concessionaire at Qualcomm Stadium and, potentially, at any new stadium in San Diego?"
Queried Fabiani, "Putting the legal and ethical issues aside for a moment, what sense does it make to have someone who is your chief advisor on political matters, and who advises a potential stadium vendor on business matters, play any sort of role with the 'independent' Task Force?"
He continued, "Have you asked the City Attorney for an opinion on the propriety of Mr. Roe's intensive involvement with the Task Force's work? If you have not yet asked for such an opinion from the City Attorney, do you intend to do so?"
Roe quietly exited the lobbying business a year ago in July, but not before the Faulconer administration awarded the stadium deal to Delaware North under circumstances roundly criticized by its rivals.
Meanwhile, spurned last year by fellow NFL owners in a quest to build a privately financed stadium in Carson, the Spanos clan boomeranged back to San Diego, where they have spent millions on November's ballot drive for a tax hike to build a downtown stadium and meeting venue.
Faulconer's recent endorsement of the plan, far different than the Mission Valley makeover he and Roe had championed, is seen by political insiders as a coup for the Spanos family and an embarrassing, if strategic, retreat for the mayor.
Along with a majority of the city council, Faulconer lavished $2.1 million of taxpayers' money on a hurry-up 2015 environmental impact report in a clumsy attempt to pressure the team to build on the site of Qualcomm Stadium.
The mayor's passion for the Mission Valley site was said to stem from the ambitions of wealthy San Diego campaign donors who coveted both a new Chargers stadium and a revised land-use plan to allow lucrative residential and commercial development to be built next door.
Whether the Spanoses will help Faulconer's flip-flop ultimately pay off for his political future with generous NFL-based funding remains to be seen, but so far the family has relied on out-of-town talent to do their heavy lifting here.
The family has engaged the services of Alexandria, Virginia-based New Troy Strategies, a take-no-prisoners Republican campaign powerhouse that counts Mary Cheney, the daughter of ex–vice president Dick Cheney, among its partners, along with David Carney, a longtime consultant to ex–Texas Governor Rick Perry, a close Spanos family friend and political ally.
City disclosure records show that New Troy has taken in a total of $206,735 from the Chargers committee through September 24.
That leaves Roe, who some have called Falconer’s brain, out of the money and far from the action, at least for public consumption, for the duration of the November stadium campaign.
Among other callings, he is running Republican Kristin Gaspar’s campaign for county supervisor against Democrat Dave Roberts.
He and partner Duane Dichiara, through their Revolvis Consulting, have received more than a million dollars from Faulconer's campaigns for city council and mayor since March 2010, according to an analysis of city campaign spending disclosure records.
Revolvis has also handled Faulconer-friendly city-council candidates, including incumbent Republican Scott Sherman, whose 2016 reelection campaign paid the firm $128,061, city data shows.
Sherman, a champion of the Mission Valley stadium site, has criticized the current Chargers downtown proposal, telling the Union-Tribune, "If you liked the ticket guarantee you're going to love this one, because it's the ticket guarantee on steroids."
Faulconer spokesman Matt Awbrey told the paper that so-called safeguards negotiated between the team and Faulconer would protect taxpayers, saying, "If these safeguards aren’t followed, the mayor won’t support moving the project forward."
But opponents of the Spanos deal point out that because the tax hike and construction plan would be adopted by the voters, the mayor would legally have little or no binding influence over how the money was spent.
Besides Sherman, Roe's firm also worked on behalf of GOP candidate Ray Ellis, who sought a seat on the city council but dropped out of the race against top vote-getter Barbara Bry after the June primary.
Much of Ellis's failed campaign was based on his opposition to the downtown stadium proposal.
The Ellis 2016 effort has paid Revolvis a total of $168,090 through September 26, city records show. When Ellis ran for the same seat unsuccessfully four year earlier in 2012, his campaign paid Revolvis $303,745.