San Diego With the death of Jerry Ford last week, distant but colorful memories have come flooding back to many of San Diego's political elders. Ford's personal and political ties to America's Finest City were extensive. When Ford ran for election to the presidency to succeed himself in 1976, one of his most avid backers was then-San Diego mayor Pete Wilson, a self-styled GOP moderate who was so fired up that he went to New Hampshire during that February's Republican primary battle between Ford and Governor Ronald Reagan. With help from Ford's campaign, Wilson set up a "truth squad" that bashed Reagan's record in California and claimed that he had inflated his achievements as governor. When Reagan lost the primary, his backers blamed Wilson -- who harbored future presidential ambitions of his own. Though Wilson was later elected to the U.S. Senate and subsequently became governor, he never managed to live down his intemperate attacks on Reagan and remained loathed by many on the right.
Wilson's other tie to Ford was in the person of his longtime campaign consultant, George Gorton, onetime member of Richard Nixon's "kiddie corps" of college students, organized by the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) to covertly gather information about the campaign of Nixon's 1972 Democratic opponent George McGovern. After the Watergate scandal and a write-up by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in All the President's Men, Gorton wound up in political exile, living near the beach in Del Mar, where he scraped together enough money to acquire the News-Press.
Jack Ford, the president's then-27-year-old son, who'd worked with Gorton on the Nixon campaign, joined the newspaper in 1978. Gorton announced that Ford had purchased a half-interest in the venture for an undisclosed sum. Ford had previously been associate publisher of Outside, the magazine founded by Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner. Gorton's girlfriend, San Diego mayor-to-be Susan Golding, became the paper's associate publisher, but their joint venture lasted barely two years. After it was sold in 1980, Gorton and Ford paid $300,000 for a building in the Gaslamp Quarter occupied by an X-rated bookstore, which remains to this day. Gorton moved on to manage the political careers of both Wilson and Golding. He also had a key role in Boris Yeltsin's 1995 campaign for president of Russia, though his latest candidate, Rancho Santa Fe denizen Steve Francis, seeking to become San Diego mayor, fell flat.
Ford, who had moved to Rancho Santa Fe, went on to such endeavors as establishing a chain of state lottery ticket kiosks owned with Democratic attorney and onetime Jerry Brown aide Byron Georgiou and being executive director for the host committee of the 1996 GOP convention here. He was appointed to the Del Mar fair board by Governor George Deukmejian and reappointed by Pete Wilson when he became governor. Last July, Ford received mention in an Irish newspaper when he showed up for Georgiou's lavish wedding at Ashford Castle in Mayo.
Famous for hearty partying and a widely reported admission that he'd smoked marijuana, Ford shared his mother's problem with the bottle. In 1983, the presidential son was busted in Cardiff for drunk driving. But Ford's most notorious moment came on August 1, 1984, when he was arrested for petty theft after stealing a sign from the equestrian competition being held at Fairbanks Ranch Country Club during the L.A. Olympics. Ford said he wanted it for a souvenir; angry spectators called the cops on him, and he was led away in handcuffs. Three weeks later, an aide to City Attorney John Witt, a staunch Republican and Wilson ally, announced that the Olympics committee had decided it didn't want to press charges and therefore the crime had no "victim." In 1989, Ford married Juliann Felando, daughter of Augie Felando, head of San Diego's tuna fishing association.