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— The last time the public heard from Elena Cristiano was two years ago, when the high-flying press secretary to Mayor Dick Murphy was abruptly fired. City hall was abuzz for weeks afterward about Cristiano's mysterious quarrel with top Murphy aide John Kern and her personal relationship with Charles Steinberg, the Baltimore-dentist-turned-Padres-vice-president who had purchased a $130,000 Poway condo with Cristiano. Later it emerged that Cristiano, a striking 36-year-old brunette and a former member of the Padres' "Pad Squad" who once waitressed at Junior Seau's Mission Valley bar and grill, had a tangled personal history.

Born Elana Marie Myers, she began using the Elena Cristiano appellation, she later told a reporter, because of emotional abuse inflicted by her father and her husband. A dropout from UC Santa Barbara, Cristiano was repeatedly involved in fights with former acquaintances, both male and female, according to restraining order requests she filed with several courts. She once appeared on the Judge Judy TV show to argue her case against one abusive ex-boyfriend. After moving to Poway and obtaining a job as a radio news writer, Cristiano got into an altercation with a La Jolla Shores lifeguard, during which, he alleged, she questioned his penis size. Court records in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties revealed that she had been twice convicted for shoplifting in department stores. Her volatility, Cristiano later explained, was due to abuse by various male friends and acquaintances. Her life changed, she recounted, after she met Steinberg. They did not have a romantic relationship, both said. Steinberg said his role in Cristiano's life "was more to teach her that good things happen when you surround yourself with good people."

Cristiano's unexplained departure from her mayoral press-secretary post on February 19, 2002 -- the day after Murphy broke ground on the new Padres stadium downtown -- gave rise to speculation that she was more closely tied to Steinberg and the Padres project than either she or Murphy let on. She remained on Murphy's payroll for another month, then vanished from the mayor's office forever. Kern refused comment, but in an e-mail to a mayoral aide dated February 19, Cristiano wrote, "I asked you repeatedly yesterday whether having my role be completely out of press was the mayor's directive." There apparently was no response. The next day she wrote Paola Avila, another Murphy aide, describing her relationship with Kern: "I am under a great deal of stress and I've allowed John's hostility to erode my self-confidence.... I have been ordered by my doctor to stop all interaction with John." In her last city e-mail, dated February 28, she wrote, "My unexplained absence is putting my professional reputation at risk." Now comes word that Cristiano has finally come up with a new job, with considerably less clout and money, as a district "field representative" for Chula Vista Republican state assemblywoman Shirley Horton. According to Assembly Rules committee records, Cristiano started on the state payroll on December 12 of last year. She made $225 that month, $1125 in January, $450 in February, $1350 in March, $675 in April, and $900 in May. Horton has been known for some other unorthodox hires; she retained the services of Democrat George Stevens, the ex-San Diego city councilman and Southeast San Diego minister whose former aide and successor, Charles Lewis, is under indictment in the Cheetahs bribery case. Stevens, who lost the Democratic primary for Horton's seat in 2002, was a big Padres backer during his city-council tenure and friend of then Padres co-owner Larry Lucchino. Another Horton staffer is Jenny Bates, an ex-Stevens aide and daughter of ex-Democratic congressman Jim Bates, who lost his seat after a sexual harassment scandal in the 1980s. Bates himself is a Horton campaign insider. Cristiano did not respond to messages left at her office and on her cell phone.

Melting pot In the good old days before the Internet, elected officials usually confined their comments to meetings or to phone conversations with their constituents. But e-mail has changed all that. Take for example San Diego school-board member Katherine Nakamura, who opposed the opening of the Alfred Einstein charter elementary school, featuring total-immersion German teaching, at mothballed Cleveland Elementary in San Carlos. Nakamura instead favored giving the site to High Tech High, a charter school favored by school superintendent Alan Bersin and his close friends and political backers, the Irwin Jacobs family. When the school board deadlocked 2-2 with one member abstaining because he'd been connected with High Tech High, neither side won. An irate Einstein parent fired off an e-mail message to Nakamura, who responded: "My brother is married to a woman of German descent and my niece and nephew -- and my brother -- have taken German classes. My own husband is from Japan and I speak Japanese...I'd be thrilled if they had one like this in Japanese when my kids were little. As a board member, however, I have to make decisions for the child's whole education. There are people out there dreaming up all kinds of reasons why I want this. They've accused my husband of having contracts with High Tech High. No, he doesn't. They accused me of simply doing the Superintendent's bidding. Guess again. The Superintendent just rolls his eyes when people suggest I'm a pushover...and so do my friends who know me. They've said that I dislike Germans, which would be hard since they're all over my family." ... Superintendent Bersin himself had good news the other day: he won his election to the board of overseers of his alma mater, Harvard.

-- Matt Potter

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