During last fall's war over the fate of what used to be Qualcomm Stadium and surrounding acreage, an éminence grise from the city's scandal-ridden history hovered over the political battlefield.
Rancho Santa Fe's John Moores, who developed downtown's Padres ballpark and adjacent Alphaville-like condo towers courtesy of fat city subsidies, was nowhere to be seen.
But two retainers from his past, ex-city manager Jack McGrory and one-time Democratic state senator Steve Peace, were everywhere, publicly and privately promoting San Diego State University's takeover of the property.
Even after Moores made a personal contribution of $98,500 to Friends of SDSU, the McGrory-led political committee waging the ballot campaign for SDSU, Moores evaded notice by all but a few observers.
Moores made his contribution on November 2, just four days before the election, the better to avoid publicity. The donation was simultaneously matched by a contribution of the same amount from Kara M. Kratzer, wife of John Kratzer, CEO of Moores’s JMI Realty.
Only after the win was secured by McGrory’s committee and SDSU – which mounted a costly promotional campaign for itself during the days leading to the election – did Moores emerge from the shadows for a victory lap, courtesy of the Union-Tribune’s sports page.
"Now that San Diego city voters have agreed with Moores — and by a fat margin — by approving the 'SDSU West' measure on Nov. 6, one wonders if the unfolding events will involve Moores," wrote the Tom Krasovic in a November 16 column lacking mention of the substantial financial backing Moores and associates had provided the measure.
The answer came not from Moores himself, but from Peace. "John’s only interest is the academic and community opportunity for SDSU," the ex-legislator was quoted as saying.
“John Moores grew up poor, and he didn’t make his money until his kids were teenagers. Put himself through school. Put himself through law school. His affinity for San Diego State is rooted in the similarities between San Diego State and the University of Houston.”
Perhaps, but a recent filing by JMI Realty may cause skeptics to question the proposition that Moores isn’t in it for the money.
According to a lobbying disclosure filed January 30 by JMI, CEO Kratzer has been talking to San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer about the "SDSU site plan." No further details are provided.
Among JMI Realty’s ties to the SDSU Mission Valley project has been a consulting contract with the university and an April 2016 dog-and-pony show promoting an early version of the deal.
“The JMI team (represented by President John Kratzer and Steve Peace), working in concert with Steve Black of Cisterra Development, another prominent San Diego developer (and SDSU alumni), will unveil their proposal to develop the Qualcomm Stadium site into a civic gem that all SDSU alumni and San Diego County residents will claim proudly," said the invitation.
“This event is organized and presented for the sole purpose of providing information and educating SDSU students, alumni, and the general public about an important real-estate matter facing the local community," an accompanying disclaimer noted. "The event does not imply any endorsement by San Diego State University."
JMI’s January influence-peddling disclosure shows the firm isn’t being paid by SDSU to lobby on the university’s behalf.
That role is being played by the downtown law firm of Sheppard Mullin, tasked by the trustees of the California University System with gaining “approval of agreement for the acquisition of the stadium site in Mission Valley from the City of San Diego,” per a January 23 disclosure filing. The firm’s compensation from CSU has yet to be revealed.
A longtime political player whose employees have contributed mightily to city candidates including Faulconer, Sheppard Mullin has deployed a team of lobbyist-lawyers to influence the terms of the contract being drafted between the city and SDSU.
According to insiders, the city risks surrendering millions of dollars in asset value associated with the Mission Valley property if Sheppard Mullin succeeds too well in its mission.