To San Diego campaign watchers, Kevin Faulconer's bid to hike taxes for expanding the city's convention center while lining the pockets of his friends in the public relations industry was an obvious non-starter, though true to city hall's fairytale world, nobody dared point out the Republican mayor's lack of clothing.
As a result, Faulconer's plan to garner convention center glory along with cash for the homeless to offset the negative hit of last year's downtown hepatitis debacle failed spectacularly with this week's refusal by the city council on a 4-4 vote to put his room tax hike initiative on November's ballot.
As first noted here May 1, political insiders found it obvious that the coalition assembled by Faulconer and ex-mayor Jerry Sanders, was off the rails, lavishing cash on PR fees while shorting the paid signature gathering.
Orange County's Rick Manter, Faulconer's chum and colleague when both worked together at the public relations and lobbying firm of NCG Porter Novelli, tapped into the effort for $61,433, and a firm run by ex-port commissioner Bob Nelson,Manolatos Nelson Murphy Advertising & PR, picked up $33,136.
Then, as the situation deteriorated, Southwest Strategies, the lobbying and political consulting outfit run by Chris Wahl, a Sanders favorite from their days spending military contractor cash to crush the Barrio Logan community plan, was brought in as fixer, running up a $77,691 bill while assuring the media that the signature drive remained alive.
"We are on track to submit our signatures next week to qualify for the November ballot,” said Wahl in a June 21 Union-Tribune account. "
A week later, Sanders, known for his contempt for the grassroots, put out a call for his chamber of commerce members to gather signatures themselves.
Said Wahl, "We have chosen to delay our submission to complete our verification — in order to pass the registrar of voters’ rigorous random sampling process.” The sample came up short, forcing a full 30-day validation check scheduled to conclude past this week's November ballot deadline.
According to disclosure filings, Arno Petition Consultants has received a grand total of at least $829,799 from the initiative committee, far less than the $1.9 million paid the firm by the San Diego Chargers football team for sufficient signatures to get its failed stadium measure on the ballot in 2016.
Similarly, Friends of SDSU, the San Diego State University backed group seeking to obtain the site of what was formerly known as Qualcomm Stadium, spent $1.2 million for its signature contractor.
Per an August 9 U-T report, the disgruntled Faulconer committee is currently threatening to sue Arno, alleging fraud and breach of contract, a development that if it comes to pass is likely to shed yet more light on the way the group went about its secretive maneuvering.
In addition to disproportionate PR spending, Faulconer, Sanders and their allies were unable to convince well-heeled San Diegans to come up with money to sustain the signature-gathering, forcing backers to plead for funding from out-of-town givers having business at city hall.
Styrofoam maker Dart Container Corp. of Mason, Michigan, fighting a possible city ban on take-out plastic dinnerware; vacation rental giant Airbnb, battling city regulation; and Geo Group of Boca Raton, Florida, a private prison operator, all anted up, though the special interest money evaded the radar of local media, including the U-T.
But the mayor's dealings with the money men did not go unnoticed by the local hotel lobby, which largely withheld their donations in favor of sitting back to watch national chains based in Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Maryland ante up what turned out to be inadequate financial support.
The funding performance gap is viewed by insiders as yet another sign that Falconer and the Sanders-led Republican establishment can no longer count on local special interest money to fuel their ambitions and will end up going hat-in-hand to benefactors in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and beyond, as they did in the case of Barrio Logan.
The diminishing Union-Tribune editorial page, a cog in Faulconer's machine under former owner Doug Manchester, took a hit as the mayor's troubled initiative drive limped towards the finish line, roundly criticizing him, but proclaiming in an August 8 editorial before the failed council vote: "The U-T editorial board agrees that the council should move the proposal forward."
Stormed Faulconer after the vote, “For four members, to sit up there today, and put politics, process over moving this forward for San Diegans, when the incredible coalition that we have… It is the absolute wrong thing to do,”
"This is the mayor's failure and he wants excuses to cover his failure," shot back Council Democrat David Alvarez, who was on the losing end of Faulconer's effort to roll back the Barrio Logan community plan in 2014
"He brought this to the council over a year ago. He could've come to the council, had public meetings, listened to the public, see what they wanted to say, but no, he wanted to do it his way."