Today is the 15th anniversary of the wedding of Susan Golding and Richard Silberman. The ultimate San Diego power couple, Silberman the Democrat, then 55, wed Republican Golding, then 38, at a ceremony in Uptown's Temple Beth Israel on July 22, 1984. "She arrived at the temple in a red Jaguar," according to the story in the next day's Union. "Silberman, who drove up in a maroon Lamborghini Spada, wore a dark suit and brought video equipment to tape the event. The two were wed under a chuppah, a traditional Jewish gazebo-like structure. Joining them under the chuppah were her two children, his three children, her parents and his father. For the wedding, the dark-haired Golding wore a light pink dress, pink stockings, pink shoes and a garland of flowers in her hair."
Rabbi Michael Sternfield, who in March 1993 was forced to leave his congregation in disgrace after it was revealed he'd had an affair with a female rabbi, told the couple that they had been "blessed with rich lives" and had "pasts that are colorful and exciting. I hope you will always find ways to share your experiences and never be too independent."
It would be hard to imagine a couple less independent of each other. They became so close that, even though they were divorced in 1990 after Silberman's conviction in a federal money-laundering case, there are still financial, emotional, and political ties between their families. Indeed, on that Sunday in July 15 years ago, they seemed to be joined at the hip as they made their way down the steps of the synagogue and up the ladder of San Diego political power. They were already plotting her ascent to the next rung: a seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
Golding, daughter of Brage Golding, a former president of San Diego State University, was a young divorcée with two small children and precious little work experience but a burning desire for influence and money when she found her way into local politics and eventually the world of Richard Silberman. Her personal relationship with George Gorton, the bearded political consultant who was chief architect of then-mayor Pete Wilson's electoral successes, opened the way for her appointment, with Wilson's blessing, to the San Diego City Council in January 1981.
"Her credentials are no worse than a lot of people in office," San Diego political consultant David Lewis told a Union reporter. "But it was Gorton's influence that got her that seat. If she thinks any differently, she's kidding herself."
Just two years later, in February 1983, her relationship with Gorton over, Golding quit City Hall to become deputy secretary for housing in the state's Business, Transportation, and Housing Agency under Governor George Deukmejian. Her council salary had been $35,000; her new job paid $50,784. But there were said to be other reasons for the move. "Eager to run for higher office, Golding felt trapped behind young, apparently well-entrenched incumbents," wrote Tony Perry in the San Diego Union shortly after Golding's resignation. "No openings in Congress or the Legislature appear likely for several years.
"After the November election, Golding went to Mayor Wilson, just elected to the United States Senate, and his powerful aide Bob White and talked to them about the possibility of her landing a job with then Governor-elect Deukmejian," reported Perry. "In recent weeks, she asked Deputy Mayor Bill Cleator to put in a word on her behalf with retired Rep. Clair Burgener (R-La Jolla), who was involved in personnel recruitment for the new administration."
While Golding was cultivating her Republican connections, she was widening her personal horizons with Democrat Silberman. The son of a North Park junk dealer, Silberman later said he put himself through San Diego State College fixing television sets. "I was born in Los Angeles and, when I was selling newspapers and magazines there, I used to pass a lot of radio shops," Silberman told the San Diego Union in a 1964 interview. "Those gadgets fascinated me and I asked my dad to buy a crystal set. He did, and I've been playing around with electronic devices ever since."
By the time Golding met him in the early 1980s, Silberman was playing with much larger toys. He had become a multimillionaire by wheeling his way through a series of questionable high-tech stock deals, keeping fast company with a series of 30ish San Diego financial hustlers like E. Keene Wolcott, Charlie Salik, and Bob Peterson. The late 1950s and early '60s were the beginning of unprecedented growth for the sleepy little Navy town. Even if the semiconductor ventures they packaged did not always make money for their stockholders, Silberman and his cohorts got rich selling the dream.
When he and Peterson sold the Jack In The Box hamburger chain to Ralston Purina in 1968, they pocketed a tidy $58 million between them and cast themselves as the town's well-heeled young turks, helping to knock down the old C. Arnholt Smith-controlled district attorney and paving the way for Pete Wilson's ascension as the city's "reform" mayor. (Silberman and Peterson were soon kicked off the Ralston board of directors after it was discovered they were dabbling in the stock of a rival fast-food chain.)
In return for his support, Silberman was rewarded by Wilson with the chairmanships of the city's downtown redevelopment corporation, the city-owned San Diego Transit Co., and the San Diego Stadium board. Each step along the way, Silberman became wealthier, cultivating elected officials with generous campaign contributions and cutting lucrative deals for friends who came to him seeking government contracts and zoning concessions. He was the ultimate fixer. His influence even reached across the border into Tijuana, where his friend and business associate Carlos Bustamante controlled the city's cooking- and heating-gas franchise.
Silberman remained a Wilson loyalist until 1977, when Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, then widely seen as presidential timber, made him a better offer. Silberman became Brown's secretary of Business and Transportation and severed his ties to Wilson. The national stage beckoned. By then Silberman was also a frequent escort of Union-Tribune publisher Helen Copley. In April 1977, local scandal flared after a reporter at Copley's Evening Tribune accused her of spiking major parts of a story about conflicts between Silberman's ownership of Old Town's Bazaar del Mundo and his new role as overseer of the state's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. He agreed to put the holding into a trust and was quickly confirmed by the Democratic legislature.