Now that Alan Bersin has been appointed “border czar” of the Obama administration’s Homeland Security Department, the race to replace him as chairman of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority is on. Insiders say Republican mayor Jerry Sanders picked Bersin, a Democrat, for the airport spot in November 2006, largely because of his political largesse. Bersin, who married into a moneyed family, has long maintained his power base by spreading the wealth around to local politicos, including maximum contributions of $320 each to the 2008 campaigns of City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and Mayor Jerry Sanders and to the failed city attorney bid of then–city councilman Scott Peters. Bersin’s father Arthur, recently deceased at 91, also contributed heavily to the mayor and council, as did a family development partnership, which gave $22,500 to San Diegans for City Hall Reform, a Sanders-run political committee, in the months immediately preceding Bersin’s board appointment.
At the time of Bersin’s appointment, the airport job came with a tidy $150,000 salary, which was later stripped away by the state legislature after a public outcry. But even without the money, the position is accompanied by plenty of perks, including free meals and junkets as well as the power to influence lucrative development plans for the airport and its surroundings. So insiders are counting on the mayor — who is said to harbor the desire to run for statewide office — to award the plum to a lawyer or developer capable of generating campaign cash. Some say Sanders may choose Democrat Steve Peace, the ex–state senator who now works for Padres owner John Moores and is a member of the mayor’s Ad Hoc Airport Regional Policy Committee, which has pushed a controversial $12 billion airport makeover. Peace has close ties to Sempra Energy and other heavy financial hitters who could readily fill Sanders’s campaign coffers.