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— "Forget the money. I wouldn't have taken Edison as a client if I didn't think it would be good for San Diego," the U-T quoted Remer as saying in response.

"If I'm wrong about Edison, I'll gladly eat my words. But I'm not wrong." Edison opponents, led by then-mayor Maureen O'Connor, eventually beat back the merger.

In 1992, Shepard left Remer and the Primacy Group and set up shop with Stoorza, Ziegaus, and Metzger, a well-connected downtown public relations and lobbying outfit with close ties to the California Republican establishment. Shepard's biggest client was Susan Golding, who was elected mayor that year. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Shepard denied that his work as a political consultant created a conflict of interest vis à vis Stoorza's lobbying activities.

"The public perception is that somehow your private clients have special access to an elected official, and the [official] might wonder whether the advice you're giving him is motivated by your commercial clients' interests," Shepard told the paper. "On both fronts, you're doing a disservice to your clients. It's better to stay on one side of the process."

Now ostensibly separate, the fortunes of Remer and Shepard continued to grow.

Shepard represented such Republican candidates as Bill Kolender in his successful 1994 race for sheriff against Jim Roache and then­San Diego City Council member Ron Roberts in his 1994 supervisorial bid against Peter Navarro. Other clients included Republican Brian Bilbray, who ousted Democratic congressional incumbent Lynn Schenk in 1994. In 1995, Shepard again worked for city councilwoman Valerie Stallings and managed Golding's easy mayoral reelection bid in 1996, as well as county supervisor Dianne Jacob's campaign the same year. In December 1997, he made waves when he left Golding's flagging campaign for U.S. Senate amid rumors he had advised her to drop out of the race. Two months later, she did.

During the late 1990s, both Shepard and Remer became used to running big-money special-interest campaigns against poorly funded opposition, which they crushed using a barrage of expensive television commercials and mailed brochures.

In June 1998, for instance, Shepard picked up a swift victory when the tourist industry chose him to run the convention-center-expansion campaign against opponents with no money. Close to a million dollars' worth of TV spots featuring the endorsement of Catholic monsignor "Father" Joe Carroll flooded the airwaves, and the measure passed handily.

That November, Shepard had another easy go of it when Padres owner John Moores selected him to run the Proposition C campaign to authorize a new, taxpayer-funded downtown baseball stadium. Moores and his partners dumped more than $2.5 million into a heavy TV and direct-mail campaign that downplayed the cost of the project to taxpayers. Again, the opposition couldn't afford to spend much and lost badly.

Shepard and his parent company, Stoorza, remained on the Padres payroll after the campaign, helping to fend off potential ballot challenges to the troubled downtown-stadium plan from forces led by ex-councilman Bruce Henderson. When the team cut some of its best players to save money in February, 1999, Shepard was ready with a quote for the Union-Tribune: "It's tough when players that you identify with leave, but the ownership's looking to the future."

For his part, Shepard's ex-partner Remer made a specialty of well-funded school-board races and school-bond issues. In November 1998, backed by $100,000 in individual contributions from donors such as U-T owner Helen Copley, Padres owner John Moores, Bonita-based Wal-Mart heir John Walton, and real estate mogul Malin Burnham, along with a raft of school contractors, Remer ran a $1.6 million campaign on behalf of Prop MM, a $1.51 billion bond issue for the San Diego Unified School District.

Like the convention-center expansion and the downtown baseball stadium, a pittance was raised by opponents to the measure, who argued that the enormous size of the $1.51 billion bond issue was far too large for the district to responsibly manage all at once. Though the critics later proved to be prophetic, the proponents' heavy spending on television and radio commercials easily carried the day.

Remer had cut his teeth in the school-bond business almost two years earlier in March 1997 when he ran an expensive campaign for a $250 million measure, until that time the largest such authorization in California, benefiting the San Ysidro School District. Though the tax base could only support $10 million of bonds at the time of the election, school officials and their developer allies argued that they needed to get pre-approval of the $250 million to accommodate "future expansion" on Otay Mesa. His success brought his Primacy Group's school-bond campaign business from around the state.

This year, however, the respective big-money juggernauts of Remer and Shepard encountered a few snags. Both consultants were hired by mayoral frontrunner and county supervisor Ron Roberts, a champion fundraiser who raked in more than a million dollars from a variety of developers, county vendors, contractors, and other special interests. Records show each consultant received thousands of dollars a month throughout the campaign, which also employed Decision Research, a polling firm run by Bob Meadow, another Hedgecock campaign veteran and Shepard co-worker.

Like Shepard, pollster Meadow has also worked regularly for Padres owner John Moores. "Since 1997, Decision Research, on behalf of the Padres, has surveyed the public repeatedly on ballpark issues," Meadow wrote in a letter to the Union-Tribune last December on Moores's behalf. "Despite the lawsuits, hearings, and controversy associated with redevelopment efforts, San Diegans still want a downtown ballpark and redevelopment project."

But when it was revealed during this year's campaign that Roberts had taken undisclosed trips on Moores's private plane and had frequently socialized with the baseball magnate, Roberts's connection with the Padres suddenly became a political liability, and the candidate quickly distanced himself from Moores. The baseball club even released a statement claiming to have severed its long-standing consulting agreement with Shepard and Stoorza. By then, however, Moores's stock-trading involvement with councilwoman Valerie Stallings, another longtime Shepard client, was under investigation by a federal grand jury. Despite Shepard's best efforts, the distinctive political scent of Moores stuck stubbornly to Roberts; his underdog opponent, Judge Dick Murphy, was elected mayor.

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Comments

MikeC May 7, 2012 @ 12:22 a.m.

Amazing material, Matt. I had reason to revisit this 2000 article today, in 2012. Remer is now getting paid by both the Saldana for Congress campaign, and the Vargas for Congress campaign. His fees pale in comparison to yesteryear; perhaps most of the work is now pro-bono. We all age, change, mellow. Still, leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the grassroots volunteer, who works hard for free along side these well-compensated consultants who never walk a precinct nor dial a voter contact number. Perhaps we are the Chumps?

Mike Copass Pacific Beach.

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