"Throughout this campaign some of the other candidates have attacked me for raising money," says Lewis. "And I can honestly tell you that I have probably called or solicited contributions on the phone maybe 15 or 20 times. Other than that, people have contacted my office, people have said, 'Listen, I know Charles. We want to help Charles out.' I haven't even sent out fundraising letters. Ninety-five percent of my contributions have been nonsolicited.
"I didn't solicit campaign contributions from billboards, I didn't solicit campaign contributions from developers. I didn't solicit contributions from the adult-entertainment industry."
Lewis says that, if elected, he would support the city's current restrictions against alcohol advertising on billboards, including the 1000-foot limitation. He also would like to restrict billboards that advertise gun shows. One billboard at an intersection in the Fourth District was particularly upsetting to him, Lewis says.
"This is at the same intersection, Euclid and Imperial, where it used to be referred to as 'the four corners of death.' This is the same intersection around the corner from Lincoln High School, where we renamed the street Ozark Willie James Jones, after Willie James Jones was murdered on that street, and I just felt it inappropriate to be advertising the Del Mar gun show at that location. So I'd like to see [the city's billboard restrictions] taken further -- not just alcohol, but also gun shows."
So why would the billboard industry be giving him all that money?
"I don't know. You would have to ask them," Lewis says. "Why would you give a guy a contribution after he just had a press conference saying he's against alcohol advertising within a thousand feet, and he wants to take it further and restrict gun-show advertising? It's a good question. Like I told the adult-entertainment industry, don't think you're going to open up a club in my district. I will fight you along with my constituents."
But the candidate says he has no intention of giving any of the money back to the contributors. "No. I'm going to use the money so we can get the message out about Charles Lewis, so we can win this election, and we can continue to do the positive work. I'm not promising anybody anything. To those billboard people, those developers, nothing. Like I keep telling people, maybe some people you can buy for $250 or hosting a fundraiser. I'm not one of those people. Just because you give me a contribution, that doesn't mean you get what you want."
Dan Tomsky, the director of the National City- based Institute for Public Strategies, a nonprofit organization that deals in programs against alcohol abuse, is a member of the San Diego Coalition for Responsible Outdoor Advertising, the group that spearheaded the effort to see the advertising ban made law. He says that the secret talks now being held between the city and the billboard companies make him nervous. Will the city give away the store? Tomsky notes that the city did not begin actually handing out citations to the billboard companies until this past fall, after members of his organization had repeatedly testified to the council about lack of enforcement.
"All we know is they keep going into closed session over at the courthouse. We recognize that it's a sensitive issue and they're trying to do negotiations, but it's closed-door stuff, and this has been dragging on for months now. Two things that are unnerving or frustrating is, one, that we clearly don't have the resources to have our own attorneys pursuing this. The city is defending itself because it has an ordinance, but the greater passion for this ordinance is our coalition. And that's what's frustrating is the powerlessness of not being able to have our own legal representation in this process. I would assume that if we had our own attorneys, we would be part of these closed-door sessions.
"It took three or more years to get this ordinance, which was seemingly a pretty conservative and legally defensible one, and here we are 14 months or so later, still seeing violations that tower over our youth. But we have the higher ground, and however long it takes, we assume justice will prevail."
Tomsky says members of his group have been picking up word out of city hall that the billboard companies may be willing to settle for a 500-foot perimeter separating liquor advertisements from schools and parks, a proposal he says is unacceptable. "That's an insult. The industry has used that as their voluntary standard all along and have not abided by it. If that's what it's going to end up being, it's like, why did we go through this entire process?
"They're breaking the law all over the place. There's a Bacardi one right now within a block of Franklin Elementary school in Kensington. There's one a couple of blocks from Hoover High on Fairmount. There's one at Tenth and Broadway, an Absolut vodka billboard, with a zebra up there -- kind of an artistic zebra -- with a vodka bottle as part of its head. It's playing on the whole presence of the San Diego Zoo. That's actually within 1000 feet of the main public library. It's just another example of blatant noncompliance with the law.
"And I don't think it's much of a surprise that the bulk of the violations are in the beach community, where a whole culture has been built around the mixing of booze and sand -- the beach, booze, and babes sort of thing. This past summer, they had one of the most popular surfer guys, Machado, on billboards with a surfboard promoting alcohol."
Liquor ads also tend to surface more frequently in lower-income urban neighborhoods, Tomsky says. "City Heights and North Park, for example. That's where they tend to do a lot of advertising, in communities of lower income and of color. A very purposeful marketing strategy."
Also worrying Tomsky is the huge influx of cash brought into the battle by the billboard companies. Lawyers and lobbyists paid for by the industry have been swarming all over city hall, he says, attempting to get the law modified or rolled back. "The bottom line is business and profits for themselves and their clients," says Tomsky. "Obviously that's their mission. They must be spending thousands and thousands to get their way. They've hired top guys to work this for them. It's really the people versus the corporations, in this case. Obviously the billboard companies are fronting this, but I have kind of a sixth sense that suggests that it's very much a concern of the alcohol industry itself to be able to advertise its products where it wants to."