continued The stadium turned out to be a different story. Back in November 1993, when the group that then owned the Padres first called for construction of a new baseball stadium, McGrory rejected the notion. "An interesting idea, but it's not going to work out financially," he told the Union-Tribune. "We've got a great stadium. We think it's very well maintained, it's got a great grass surface, the best in the National League, and it's a good baseball stadium."
A year later, when the team was sold to computer software mogul John Moores, McGrory made no attempt to extract a promise from Moores to keep the team in San Diego longer than the 1999 expiration of the team's lease at its Mission Valley stadium. Under terms of the lease, the City could have vetoed the sale to Moores under certain circumstances, a power that sources say would have given the City greater leverage in negotiating a new lease on favorable terms to the taxpayers. Instead, McGrory allowed the sale to proceed unhindered. Immediately after Moores closed the deal, he began talking about two options after the lease ran out in 1999: a new, taxpayer-financed stadium or moving the team to another city.
Meanwhile, the Chargers had made it to the Super Bowl and owner Alex Spanos was leaning hard on Golding for a better deal in Mission Valley. Under McGrory's direction, the City had been meeting with Spanos even before the trip to the Super Bowl. When Golding accompanied Spanos back from the team's defeat in Miami in January 1995, the deal - including a controversial 60,000-seat-per-game ticket guarantee virtually dictated by Spanos and his attorneys - was ready for public consumption.
The "great baseball stadium" that McGrory had praised the year before was to be closed in and customized for football. The deal was rushed through the council that spring. When a reporter asked for reports on construction costs and lease-term comparisons that had been prepared by a city consultant to the Spanos talks, she was told that the material had been destroyed.
McGrory made no secret of his love for sports, and he hung out at the city council's private stadium box during games. He liked to swap sports stories, and he had a memory for even the most trivial statistics. At 6'7", he was a standout player in high school basketball. When Richard Rider and Bruce Henderson first challenged the Spanos deal in court in late 1995, McGrory was livid. On his recommendation, the council spent more than $500,000 on the expensive downtown law firm of Luce, Forward in a bitter fight against Rider's efforts to put the project on the ballot. Many observers say it became a personal vendetta, and McGrory's words seemed to bear them out. "We kicked their butts all the way to the supreme court," McGrory liked to say after the City won when the state supreme court declined to hear the case.
Perhaps that was why McGrory was so adamant about moving in the bulldozers that night in late December 1996, after more than 60,000 San Diego voters had signed petitions calling for an election on the Spanos deal. As the fight over the stadium heated up during early 1997, McGrory's rhetoric became ever harsher. Henderson and Rider were "urban terrorists," he said in a speech to one community planning group. He announced he would sue them to recover punitive damages for delaying the stadium expansion. A friendly judge eventually ruled that the petition drive was meaningless and that the City could proceed with its sweetheart deal with Spanos. McGrory was jubilant.
But the victory soon turned Pyrrhic, at least for McGrory, who had carried the water and taken the flak. First there was the question of the Padres, who had sat by while McGrory handed out the goodies to Spanos. Now it was their turn, and they made it clear they would bolt town if they didn't get a new stadium of their own, on equivalent terms. As a result of the commotion over the stadium, polls showed high levels of public skepticism about any new ballpark, and politicians of all stripes pledged to put it on the ballot. McGrory's trademark secret ways were repudiated by an opportunistic Golding eager to distance herself from the controversy. She formed a task force to hold hearings. McGrory was edged to the sidelines.
Then, too, another shoe, the ticket guarantee, began to drop. Sixty thousand seats a game, it turned out, were a lot to sell, and McGrory, who said he was counting on the Chargers, had no experience selling them. Establishment business figures, who during the controversy over the Spanos deal said they would have no trouble unloading the seats, made themselves scarce. The San Diego International Sports Council, a group the city council had been counting on to sell tickets to the public, submitted a bill for $15,000 to cover just one month of its activities, which was paid out of tax money. McGrory and his lieutenants failed to return phone calls to explain. By last month, it was clear that the City would face festering problems that would continue to highlight McGrory's deal with Spanos. No judge could save him from that.
McGrory was also finding himself marginalized in the battle over expanding the downtown convention center. He had bet all his cards on a legal battle with the Rider group to keep the expansion off the ballot. Many felt he had no choice. The cost of the project had soared from $140 million to $211 million in less than two years and threatened to go even higher. Many inside city hall believed the heat of an election campaign would kill the idea once and for all.
The strategy seemed to be working. A financing deal had been secretly cobbled together between the Port of San Diego and the City. No election would be needed. As with the stadium, bulldozers were about to roll. Rider's lawsuit had been dismissed by local judges, and the state supreme court rarely took such cases for review. But the dice rolled against McGrory, and the seven justices in San Francisco decided to hear Rider's arguments.