'Sometimes it's hard to see the forest for the trees." That opening line of a recent newspaper advertisement was a plea to look beyond controversies surrounding the Padres' proposed baseball stadium and maintain "the vision" of a revitalized East Village in downtown San Diego.
The ad, a pitch for continued public support of the stadium, was endorsed by 22 civic and religious organizations. They included many groups that had previously remained neutral on the $411 million project, which is now clouded by lawsuits, adverse environmental impacts, and disputes with East Village property owners.
When asked about the $13,979, full-page, full-color ad in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the organizations -- ranging from Episcopal Community Services to the San Diego Convention Center -- communicated they had not paid for it. Yet they did not know who had picked up the tab.
Some of the organizations' officials had read the ad before endorsing it; others had not. Some obtained permission from their boards; others did not. Some considered the message political while others called it educational -- despite the ad's "Yes on C" logo. By lending their names to the stadium, the organizations, most of which are tax-exempt, became part of a new organization, Citizens for San Diego's Future, what one founder calls "a very loose federation." So loose is the federation -- which exists in name only -- some of its organizations didn't know they were members.
"I'm not aware of Citizens for San Diego's Future," said Marco Li Mandri, executive director of Little Italy Association. "The Padres asked if they could put our name on the list supporting the ballpark. I'm assuming the Padres paid for the ad."
Officials for the Padres and its advertising agency have not returned numerous telephone calls inquiring about the ad, so it's uncertain whether they helped write or edit it, supplied artwork or money. Padres officials solicited at least six organizations to sign the ad but did not include the team among the 22 endorsers. While the ad highlighted the Padres' plan to spend $115 million on the stadium and added the $50 million pledged by San Diego's redevelopment agency, it neglected to mention the remaining cost to taxpayers, the $225 million in bonds to be issued by the city.
Mitrovich, a civic leader who has become one of the Padres' biggest cheerleaders, is one of the few people who will discuss what he calls "a limited advertising campaign," which printed a second ad last week and promises another to come in the Union-Tribune. While effusive in his comments about the need for a downtown baseball stadium and lavish in his praise of team owner John Moores's financial commitment to the project, Mitrovich is somewhat elusive about details of the ad campaign, which includes radio.
When first asked who footed the bill, Mitrovich said, "We're in the process of raising the money for the ad," implying it had not yet been paid for. But representatives in the Union-Tribune's display advertising department said political ads, such as the one appearing on page B-10 July 28, must be paid in advance. Informed of that apparent discrepancy and asked whether the newspaper made an exception and extended credit, Mitrovich then said the Committee of 2000 paid. He helped found the committee, a tax-exempt political organization, in 1997 to support the ballpark. Some of its members, including mostly business executives, lawyers, professionals, and community leaders, signed the second full-page, full-color ad published August 12 on page A-20 of the Union-Tribune.
Composing the first ad was a collaborative effort involving others, Mitrovich said, but he would not identify the writers, editors, and artists or say whether that group included Padres officials. However, the idea for forming a broad-based citizen group and ad campaign grew from a meeting Padres officials held for community leaders July 7, before the team played the San Francisco Giants. "The feeling was the Padres are in trouble on this project," Mitrovich recalled, noting that news about the stadium was "negative." Dominating headlines and broadcasts then were the county grand jury's allegations that Mayor Susan Golding had improperly granted favors to influence the vote on Proposition C. "A number of people spoke at this meeting and said, 'We need to be heard.' People need to know support for the ballpark hasn't diminished.'"
Although he didn't address the 70 or so people gathered, Mitrovich said, he jumped into action the next day. Like a long vine that attaches itself to individual trees in the forest, Mitrovich is threaded throughout the endorsement list.
It was easy for the silver-tongued, politically astute Mitrovich to approach existing stadium boosters and woo newcomers. Besides serving as chairman of the Committee of 2000, he is the founder and president of the City Club of San Diego, a public forum that hosts celebrity speakers. He also is the elected president of the Ecumenical Council of San Diego County, an association of 112 Christian churches. Mitrovich called his alma mater, Point Loma Nazarene University, and quickly got the okay of the public relations vice president. Mitrovich also sought approval from Episcopal Community Services, San Diego Hall of Champions, San Diego International Sports Council, and the Catfish Club, another public forum.
The Rescue Mission would seem a tougher sell. Its men's shelter, thrift shop, donations warehouse, and other facilities serving the poor are so close to the stadium site, the environmental impact report predicts the mission's loss would have a significant impact on the homeless. Mitrovich, however, has been acquainted with the mission's new chief executive, James Jackson Jr., and Jackson's family for decades. Without consulting the board, Jackson gave the mission's blessing. His rationale -- "The politics of the situation are done. The vote was last November" -- echoes Mitrovich's explanation of why the promotion is merely educational: "Now that Prop C is voted on, it's not a political issue anymore."
Not every organization succumbed to Mitrovich's powers of persuasion.
When Mitrovich sought the Salvation Army's backing of the ballpark -- identifying himself as president of the Ecumenical Council -- "He said, 'It's not political,' " recalled Major David Hudson, that charity's divisional secretary. "I said, 'It really is political.' There are two divided camps. We serve both camps. There's nothing to be gained from endorsing something like the ballpark."