Anyway, my phone call from Lynn Schenk seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary. She was a friend, she wanted to have lunch with me to talk about the upcoming race for Congress in 1996, and I naturally assumed that she was running and wanted my help.
Instead, Lynn asked me to consider running. She had ruled out a race of her own for personal reasons, and she believed that I was one of the few people who could beat the incumbent Brian Bilbray.
Running for Congress was not something I wanted to contemplate. After all, I had lost three of the closest elections in San Diego history in just the last three years — for mayor in 1992, for city council in 1993, and for county supervisor in 1994. Despite the closeness of my losses, I was gaining a reputation as a perennial loser, and I had also publicly promised not to run again for anything (except maybe dogcatcher) if I lost that third race. More to the point, I was mentally and physically exhausted from the process, and, frankly, I was not looking forward to another beating.
So, instead, I urged Lynn to reconsider her decision not to run. In doing so, I told her everything she was trying to tell me. That Brian Bilbray could be easily beaten this time. That Bilbray was as much of an idiot as he was when he first ran against her in 1994, but this time he was an idiot with a record — a bad one.
Rabidly pro-Gingrich, anti-environment, anti-Medicare, anti-education, and anti-choice, Bilbray fit the 49th Congressional District about as well as the glove at the O.J. trial fit the Juice — which is to say, not at all. At the same time, county government was about to go belly up because some years earlier, in a bonehead move, Bilbray had successfully crusaded for a $150 million boondoggle trash plant that was now threatening to bankrupt the county’s regional trash system.
Besides, I told Lynn, she was a prodigious fund-raiser, and it would take a million dollars to beat the sob, which was probably more than I could raise. Plus, Lynn had great White House connections, she had strong community support, 1996 was going to be a super year for Democrats, and she could do the race a whole lot easier than I could.
And that’s how we left it. She said she’d think about it, and I said I wouldn’t. But the seed was planted in my mind — a mind, I might add, that responds to the idea of running for office in much the same way that a gambling addict responds to the call to “put your money down.”
(By the way, if you’ve read this far and are still wondering what the title of this chapter means, the difference between God and Newt Gingrich is that God knows he’s not Newt Gingrich.)
Chapter 2: Nothing Is Fatal in Politics
Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win. — Jonathan Kozel
I lost my first election in 1992 because of a cocaine deal gone bad. I wasn’t directly involved. It was more like a drive-by shooting with me as the innocent victim. Sort of innocent, that is, because I did see the limousine coming with its guns drawn and blazing. I just didn’t have the good sense to dive out of the way. Here’s what happened.
On April 7, 1989, San Diego financier Richard Silberman was arrested in a San Diego motel room for attempting to launder what was purported to be over a million dollars of Colombian cocaine money. He had been caught flagrante delicto on videotape in an fbi sting originally set up to ensnare the alleged mobster Chris Petti. My favorite line uttered by Silberman during the sting was “This is not a virgin here.” I love that line because being a virgin is probably the one thing Dick Silberman had never been accused of.
The Silberman bust was big news in and of itself in San Diego because Silberman was one of the town’s most prominent politicos. He’d made a fortune cofounding the Jack In The Box hamburger chain and, as rich people often do, he had parlayed his business success into political clout. Indeed, Silberman had started right at the top with several appointments to Governor Jerry Brown’s administration, including Secretary of Business and Transportation and state finance director.
However, what made the Silberman bust even bigger news was that his wife, County Supervisor Susan Golding, was getting ready to make her long-anticipated leap into state politics with a run for lieutenant governor. Success in that endeavor would have reunited her with her old mentor Governor Pete Wilson and put her in the line of succession for the governor’s mansion once Wilson stepped down. Pete Wilson had, of course, gotten his start in politics as the mayor of San Diego back in 1971.
Golding’s first big liaison up the political ladder had been with Wilson’s chief strategist George Gorton. Out of that coupling came a plum appointment in 1981 to the San Diego City Council by Wilson.
Golding’s second big liaison was with the aforementioned Richard Silberman. She used his fortune to bankroll her move up from the city council to the county board of supervisors. In that 1984 race, Golding ran against Lynn Schenk. What is most bizarre about this face-off is that Schenk had gotten into the race to begin with only at the urging of Richard T. Silberman, her former boss at the California Department of Business and Transportation.
In a now-famous meeting between Schenk and Silberman — with Golding as a fly on the wall in the room — Schenk laid out her entire campaign strategy to Silberman, thanked him for getting her into the race, and asked for his full support. Shortly thereafter, to the chagrin of Silberman and the outrage of Schenk, Golding decided she wanted the seat for herself, and that’s where Sugar Daddy Dick’s money came in.