On one side are two multi-millionaires; five national cable and broadcast conglomerates; a well-entrenched, monopoly daily newspaper and its army of compliant reporters; the mayor and city council and their taxpayer-paid staff; an ex-mayor tainted by political scandal; the chamber of commerce; and a phalanx of political consultants expected to spend as much as it takes -- maybe more than $2 million — to make sure voters approve a new $400 million-plus baseball stadium for San Diego.
"It's good for all of us" is their motto, and political consultant Tom Shepard, who once pleaded guilty to a charge of money laundering in the political corruption case of his old mentor Roger Hedgecock, is now leading the charge for taxpayer funding of a downtown pleasure palace, replete with luxury suites and an artificial beach.
On the other side? The opponents are many and varied but have little money and little experience running a political campaign and even less access to the powerful media outlets that mold opinions by virtue of their ability to deny public access to the airwaves. The old "fairness doctrine," under which TV and radio stations were required to provide a modicum of free air time to balance the onslaught of paid advertisements from wealthy Padres owner John Moores, was thrown out during the Reagan Administration. Now, station managers smirk when asked whether their stations would deign to provide equalcoverage. "No, no, no. The answer is no."
Fallen mayor Roger Hedgecock, who copped a plea to avoid a third retrial on the campaign corruption charges against him and went on to become the darling of local right-wing radio, no longer even makes a pretense of fairness. His bosses at Jacor, the national radio-station chain created by vulture investor Sam Zell, proudly tell their stockholders that they are out to create lucrative sports-broadcasting monopolies in each of the cities they dominate, and they will freely use their news and talk personalities to do so. Ted Leitner, the affable, workaholic sportscaster who has become a millionaire, also makes no attempt to provide balance to his coverage, and the stations he works for, which are owned by an Illinois millionaire, provide no alternative voices.
And commercials paid for by Moores aren't the only battering rams of the stadium juggernaut. Cox Cable, which enjoys a mighty cable monopoly franchise awarded by the city council, is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of its own on promoting its Padres coverage, with nary a word from opponents. Cox, too, is expected to reap huge fees from commercials run by Moores, without offering the underfunded citizen opponents any time to rebut.
Thus, without money or establishment clout, the anti-stadium forces are pushing ahead, setting up Web pages and fax trees, girding for battle against the wall of media they know is headed their way. Some belong to a campaign organization called "Stop Proposition C" and are attending meetings and putting out press releases. Others make their plans alone or in small, informal groups, setting up independent Web pages, investigating intriguing financial rumors about the Union-Tribune and some of its more unscrupulous reporters. Some print bumper stickers in their own tiny shops. Others are looking into the role to be played by Monsignor Joe Carroll, a member of the Roman Catholic clergy who frequently endorses political causes supported by donors to the St. Vincent de Paul homeless complex he runs. Others simply rage against the night and hope that someone will hear them. Here is one of their stories:
Joel Mielke, owner of Joel Mielke's Graphic Design and Screenprinting, Kettner Boulevard.
MATT POTTER: Have you lived in San Diego a long time?
JOEL MIELKE: Yeah, all my life. I'm from Chula Vista originally.
MP: So you grew up here. Where did you go to high school?
JM: Hilltop, Chula Vista.
MP: Did you go to college?
JM: Not really. City College. Took Spanish at night.
MP: How old are you now?
JM: Uh, 40.
MP: How long have you been in this line of work?
JM: Oh, boy. All my working career I've been in graphics in one aspect or another. Everything from offset printing to design, cartooning, screen printing, signage. It's always been some related type of business.
MP: So, how long have you been in this particular business?
JM: About three years
MP: What is it, what kind of stuff do you do?
JM: I do design and screen printing. Most of it is signage, banners. Like I do all the Little Italy banners. I do Old Town, Pacific Beach, College.
MP: Are you married?
MP: Do you have a family?
JM: Yeah, I got a wife.
MP: So what got your attention about this issue? How did you get involved?
JM: I was pretty excited about the library, I must say, because I use the library, and I've always been sort of put off by the downtown library. All my adult life I've always lived in town here in San Diego, and once they decided to do a central library, I mean, I have to admit, just for my own personal reasons, I thought that's great, I'm all for it. When they started discussing the design and doing this, like, reading room, atrium on the roof, and all this stuff, I'm thinking, man, for someone who uses the library, that's great. I mean, I just can't imagine a better situation. It's centrally located, it's handy for me...
So anyway, I really got into the idea of a library. I thought, well, that's public money well spent as far as I'm concerned. It's hard to argue with; I think it's hard to argue with. Anyway, then the stadium fiasco happened, and, I don't know, there's some loss of political will or whatever. I'm not that, you know, hip to everything that's transpired. But all of a sudden the library is off the radar. Nobody discusses the damn thing. It's as if it never even happened -- you know, all those public meetings where everybody looked at different plans and voted on which design they thought was the most appropriate and all this stuff. It's as if it never happened. Then I'm thinking, well, that's too bad; it's because of this loss of political will.