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— As school-board elections approach, San Diego Unified chief Alan Bersin continues to haul out the big guns to tell his side of the highly contentious story. Word has leaked from district headquarters on Normal Street that none other than Al Ziegaus, the public relations maestro behind the now defunct Stoorza Ziegaus PR agency, and his award-winning aide Bernie Rhinerson have joined the Bersin bandwagon as behind-the-scenes "consultants" to the district. According to district sources, the new PR hands are sitting in on weekly district meetings to hash out public relations strategies and make sure that all literature and news releases issued by the district are helpful to the Bersin loyalists running in the two school-board races up for grabs this year. Ziegaus, a city hall reporter for the Evening Tribune in the '70s and one-time aide to ex-city councilman Jess Haro, went on to join Gail Stoorza-Gill to form Stoorza, Ziegaus, & Metzger, which picked up some of the most lucrative PR and advertising contracts in town (third partner, Bobbie Metzger, former press secretary to ex-state assembly speaker Willie Brown, left the agency in 1996). Two years ago, Ziegaus struck out on his own and set up, with Rhinerson and Chris Wahl, Southwest Strategies, which has represented a variety of developers as well as the San Diego Unified Port District. This June, the firm announced it had picked up a contract from the city of Coronado: "SWS will design and produce a city newsletter, prepare city informational news releases, and provide content and design upgrades for the City web site." Just how much Ziegaus is getting from the school district and who is picking up the tab is still unknown. Sources say Bersin has been telling insiders that the money is coming from unidentified "private donors" and not official district funds. PR consultant Ziegaus himself declined comment on anything having to do with his work for San Diego Unified and referred all questions to the district's public affairs office, which failed to return phone calls ... A day after it was revealed here that state Democrats wouldn't be unhappy to see state bond funds for Republican mayor Dick Murphy's pet downtown library project hung up in limbo, state staffers in charge of the money suddenly reversed course last week and said that errors they had found in the city's $20 million-plus grant application would be ignored. San Diego Democratic state senator Dede Alpert is on the special commission that has ultimate say over how the money is spent. Whether a final vote on the funding is held before or after the gubernatorial election is now considered crucial to whether Murphy manages to collect the money. The mayor has put his prestige on the line with his promise to build the new building across the street from the downtown ballpark and is expected to cite both if he makes his own longed-for run for governor four years from now.

Inside gatherers The big San Francisco law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, which has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to local officials up and down the state, including San Diego city and county, is the subject of a big write-up in San Francisco's legal newspaper, the Recorder: "Even where there is a bidding process, Orrick is such a well-known quantity among public officials that it enters the process with a leg up on competitors." The paper quotes San Diego County chief financial William Kelly as saying about the firm after sealing a recent deal: "We were very familiar with Orrick."... Padres owner John Moores has given $5000 to Bill Richardson, Democratic candidate for governor of New Mexico. Richardson's tenure on the board of troubled Moores-controlled Peregrine Systems has drawn fire from the Republican in the race ... Paralegal extraordinaire Erin Brockovich has joined the board of San Diego's Save the World Air, Inc., says a recent news release from the firm, which makes a "Zero Emission Fuel Saver" device ... KUSI weatherman C.S. Keys, who moved here from Pittsburgh a few years back, is getting some belated praise from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette TV-writer Tony Norman: "Remember C.S. Keys, the popular, but chronically troubled weatherman for both KDKA and WPXI? Keys grew up watching the same Philly news personalities I did, so he never realized that some things -- like allegedly beating up a girlfriend -- just aren't done in Pittsburgh. Keys may have been run out of town on a rail, but he landed on his feet in San Diego, where he's managed to stick to the path of righteousness in his personal life."

Contributor: Matt Potter

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