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Much of this occurred during sensitive negotiations between the Padres and Murphy's office regarding the details of city financing of the new ballpark, but Cristiano denied that she ever allowed her relationship with Steinberg to interfere with the confidential work of the mayor's office. "In fact, Charles always used to tease people and say, 'I can't get anything out of her,' " Cristiano related in an interview last year. "Not that he really tried, but it was definitely a situation where we were extremely careful that we were very professional, and I would never disclose anything to him that I learned within the confines of city hall that would not be appropriate public information. I was just really careful with that because I knew it was sensitive."

Cristiano's last major appearance as press secretary occurred in January 2002, during a joint news conference in support of the ballpark held by Murphy and his erstwhile mayoral rival, county supervisor Ron Roberts.

On February 19, the day after ground was broken for the downtown ballpark, the mayor issued a three-sentence news release headlined "Mayor Murphy Makes Staff Changes." It went on to say that Murphy "today announced that Colleen Rudy has been appointed Press Secretary in place of Elena Cristiano, who has been appointed Director of Communications." After that, Cristiano dropped out of sight.

Weeks later, the city confirmed she had left the mayor's employ but would say nothing more.

During the ensuing months, rumors of Cristiano's volatile personality made their way through city hall. Court records showed that during her 20s she had been twice convicted of shoplifting at department stores in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. While working as a broadcast newswriter, according to court records, she had also gotten into an altercation with a La Jolla Shores lifeguard after she allegedly questioned the size of the man's penis during his attempts to persuade her to keep her dog off the beach. She subsequently pled guilty to a misdemeanor in that case. During a March 2002 interview, Cristiano acknowledged the shoplifting incidents and having had other rough spots in her life, which she attributed predominantly to a series of bad relationships with abusive men, beginning with her adoptive father.

During the same interview, Cristiano said that she and mayoral chief of staff John Kern had various unspecified "issues" between them that contributed to her departure. Kern and other mayoral staffers did not return repeated phone calls seeking information about her status. Cristiano maintained that the mayor still had confidence in her and vowed that she would keep her $65,000-a-year job, a sentiment seconded by Steinberg during a telephone interview that same month from his new office at Fenway Park. But Cristiano never returned to her desk, and city officials said she was no longer collecting her pay.

This summer, court files show that Cristiano legally changed her last name and the last names of her two sons to Cristiano. Superior Court Judge Lisa Foster, wife of San Diego school superintendent Alan Bersin, made the change final on August 8. Cristiano, who filed a confidential application for waiver of court fees, said in an affidavit that she desired to make the changes because she had "been using Cristiano for 10-plus years, do not want abusive adoptive father's name (Myers) or abusive ex-husband's name (Price)." Cristiano did not respond to requests for comment left at her home.

In an attempt to answer some of the lingering questions caused by the unusual circumstances of her departure, in the summer of 2002 the Reader made a request to the city under the California Public Records Act for copies of Cristiano's official e-mail files and certain telephone records covering the last several months of her tenure with Murphy. The mayor's office denied the request, and the newspaper subsequently sued to gain access to the material. When Superior Court judge William Nevitt sided with the city, the paper appealed to the Fourth District Appellate Court, which earlier this summer overturned Nevitt's decision and ordered the city to produce the bulk of the requested material. Below are presented excerpts from those records.

January 2, 2002; 9:07 a.m.

From: "M D"

To: Elena Cristiano

Subject: Hang in there!!

Message: How are you? I am doing pretty good... keeping myself pretty busy so I don't think about the ridiculous position I have put myself in. I'm going to work out tonight, how about you?? Maybe we can motivate each other, perhaps I can call you tonight and tell you about my workout, and then you will feel guilty and want to work out too!! And vice versa because you know that I will be procrastinating!!! I need to go get some food now, but I hope that you have a wonderful day which will not be stressful -- keep your chin up!!

Love, Melanie

January 6, 2002; 9:13 p.m.

From: Paul Durso

To: Elena Cristiano

Subject: Pam's party

Message: I really enjoyed talking to you the other night. Thank God you were there or I would have ended up having to do the "Conga Line" with the other soccer moms, ugh...

It's too bad the night had to end the way it did. I would have been pissed, too, if I were you. After you left everyone was consoling Pam. I told her I don't blame Elena for reacting the way she did. I would have done the same. Needless to say she wasn't real thrilled with me. That's when I made my exit. I pretty much say what's on my mind. I call it like I see it. If you want to email me, my address is...

Talk to you later,

Joan

January 7, 2002;

1:01 p.m.

From: Joan Durso

To: Elena Cristiano

Subject: Re:

Message: You can call me at work... Or my home... I was pretty lit, so my memory is limited, but I do remember some.

January 7, 2002; 12:24 p.m.

Elena Cristiano (ECristiano@SanDiego.Gov) wrote:

Me too. I was hoping you'd email me. The shots, the adrenaline from defending Bobby, and the pent-up frustration from years of his family resenting me for "changing him" were a bad combination. I am not sure why Pam "removed" me from the garage. Call me please so I can tap your brain for some of the details. Besides, I like you and we should hang out again.

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