Is Jerry Sanders in thrall to his biggest political contributors? Some have thought so, especially as Sanders is said to harbor thoughts of running for statewide office in the not-so-distant future. Now there is evidence that the San Diego mayor’s actions are influenced by contributions to his campaign kitty. Two weeks ago, Sanders announced the members of his new 17-member Citizens’ Task Force on the San Diego Convention Center Project. According to a press release, the members “represent diverse interests — San Diego taxpayers, the Convention Center’s fellow port tenants, the hospitality industry, organized labor and the business and economic development communities.”
Well, yes and no. Big labor, not always friendly to Sanders, is represented by AFL-CIO chief Lorena Gonzalez, but labor has always backed the City’s big pork barrel projects. Then there is Lani Lutar, who runs the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, a downtown business lobby that has never seen a convention center or new stadium project it didn’t like. And there is Pete Garcia, chairman of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Foundation, another pro-development cheerleader. Task force cochairman (and port commission chairman) Steve Cushman makes no secret of his desire for the expansion. Diane Takvorian, head of the nonprofit Environmental Health Coalition, is the outlier of the group, having no obvious vested interest in the expansion issue. None of the 5 has given money to the Sanders campaign, according to a search of city records.
But that leaves the other 12 members who have, either individually or via company ties. Bill Evans, whose family owns hotels on City-leased land, has given $1810 since 2006. Employees of Black Mountain Ranch, LLC, where Fred Maas is president, kicked in $1470. Architect Mark Steele’s M.W. Steele Group gave $1500 to San Diegans for City Hall Reform, a Sanders-controlled political fund, and $320 directly to the mayor’s campaign. Richard Bartell of Bartell Hotels and family gave $3180. Susie Baumann and husband Larry of the Bali Hai Restaurant contributed $620. Executives of the Irvine Company, where Charles Black used to work, gave $620. The San Diego National Bank’s Gordon Boerner gave $640, as did Vince Mudd of San Diego Office Interiors, and employees of Atlas Hotels, where Mike McDowell works, gave $1380. Cox Communications honcho Bill Geppert, his wife, and fellow employees gave a total of $2860. PR man Bob Nelson of Bob Nelson Associates and his workers came up with $659. And task force cochairwoman Cheryl Kendrick gave $320.