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In the past, pro sports has been considered somewhat recession-proof. Not this year, and perhaps not in 2010. Attendance is already sagging, despite the slashing of some seat prices, even in the affluent National Football League. Ailing sponsors, particularly in the auto and financial industries, are dropping out. Those sports promoters getting fat bailouts from the federal government are hearing from critics, some of whom are shareholders.

There’s a bright side: fiscal woes of states and municipalities, along with the lending freeze, may put a crimp in the stadium-subsidy scam. The construction industry hopes that the Obama administration’s big infrastructure stimulus package will help fund pro sports stadiums, but gnawing water, sewer, road, highway, bridge, dam, and maintenance needs around the nation may squelch such insane babblings.

Early this month, when he said he (along with a small and unidentified group of investors) had reached an agreement to buy the San Diego Padres, Jeff Moorad said that “sports teams will be challenged going forward as all businesses will be in the short run.” John and Becky Moores, who own a reported 90 percent of the team, are getting a divorce and claim that is the reason for the sale, which is supposedly to be phased in over several years. However, Moores has shown a canny (and dubious) ability to jettison an investment before a calamity hits; for example, he dumped $650 million worth of Peregrine Systems stock, almost all he controlled, before the company collapsed in scandal. Padres attendance is already in decline, as is the team’s performance. Moores, who promised he would bring in good players if the City would give him a fat subsidy, has pared the payroll to bare bones as the team founders in the field.

Taking the family to pro sports events used to be cheap entertainment. But that was before cities massively subsidized new stadiums and owners jacked up prices. In 1991, going to a Padres game cost $73.16, according to teammarketing.com. That included tickets for two adults and two children, four small soft drinks, two small beers, four hot dogs, two programs, two caps, and parking. By 2006, two years after the subsidized Petco Park opened, the cost was up to $180.32. It has risen since 2006: last season a premium-brand beer cost $9 and a hot dog $4.

Everyone is watching baseball’s New York Yankees. The team moves into a $1.3 billion subsidized stadium this year. Tickets for seats behind the home dugout, which were $150 a game in 2007 and $250 in 2008, will go to $850 in the new stadium. The Yanks have had trouble selling the 51 luxury suites that go for $600,000 to $850,000 a season. Wall Street’s collapse has caused stiff white-collar unemployment in New York.

Philip Porter, economist at the University of South Florida, has just done a study of ticket prices after a subsidized stadium is completed. “Owners keep prices low until they get referendums for stadiums, and then they raise the prices substantially,” he says. “The bottom line is that professional sports is a luxury, not a necessity,” thanks in large part to price escalations after subsidized stadiums are built.

“The nature of the person in the stadium is changing, especially in football and basketball,” says Rodney Fort, professor of sports management at the University of Michigan. “The typical fan is upper-middle class, and in basketball, more than that.” Baseball is not quite as expensive, and “hockey is still reasonable.”

Bud Selig, commissioner of Major League Baseball, has warned owners that the current economic crunch could be severe. The National Football League has experienced a 1 percent drop in attendance this year, even though many tickets had been purchased prior to the economic mayhem. The league has slashed this year’s playoff prices by 10 percent and dropped some Super Bowl tickets to $500 a seat from $800, according to Forbes.com. The league has trimmed employment, as have the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball.

It is no secret that pro football is driven by gambling. (Ever wonder why the sports pages give the line on games?) Gambling is down sharply this year. Casino stocks have cratered. Native American casinos are hurting coast-to-coast, including in San Diego. Less wagering on games could translate into lower attendance and lower TV ratings for football and other gambling-dependent pro sports such as basketball.

Other sports are cutting back. Take car racing. The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), which depends heavily on support from Detroit-related companies, will cut back its season and the number of cars that compete. Ditto for Formula One, which features sleek racing cars. The Arena Football League, which had been growing in recent years, canceled its 2009 season, pending agreement with the players’ union. The Professional Golfers’ Association of America shouldn’t lose any tournaments this year, but it is concerned about 2010, when contracts with bank and auto sponsors expire. The Ladies Professional Golf Association could have trouble with tournament sponsors this year.

Meanwhile, the banks taking big bailouts from government and the auto companies that have their hands out are getting justifiably sullied in the media. Baseball’s New York Mets have a $20 million naming-rights deal with Citigroup, the huge, hapless bank being rescued by the U.S. government. Bank of America, another mendicant, is reported to be negotiating a similar deal with the Yankees. Wachovia Corporation, which Wells Fargo swallowed in an emergency measure, has its name on two pro facilities and sponsors a big golf tournament. It’s not clear what will happen.

Owners’ economic woes are affecting sports. Billionaire developer Sam Zell loaded media giant Tribune Company with debt; then the newspaper business tanked. The company went bankrupt. Zell has not yet been able to sell the Chicago Cubs baseball team and its Wrigley Field. Newspaper megrims have also hit the New York Times; it’s trying to unload its 17.5 percent stake in the Boston Red Sox baseball team. Jerry Moyes has piled excessive debt on both his trucking company, Swift Transportation, and his hockey team, the Phoenix Coyotes. Now the team wants to renegotiate its stadium lease, even though it gets most of the revenue from the facility. The Coyotes have a 30-year lease and have promised to stay in town that long, notes fieldofschemes.com, but could vamoose by declaring bankruptcy.

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JustWondering Jan. 14, 2009 @ 1:04 p.m.

It pains me to read the truth here again... This year I cancelled my two season tickets... I just couldn't justify spending $8,100, for my "Founders" Club seats for 81 home games. As a season ticket holder for several years, I was forced to purchase a personal seat license if I wanted to have what I believe were great seats behind home plate. But now, since I have voluntarily surrendered my season ticket rights I have to forfeit value of the remaining 29 years on my seat license. In other words, money down the proverbial drain.

My wife, the optimistic one says, well you didn't spend another $8,100 to watch a triple "A" team play at Petco Park. And, if there is on consolation, there are plenty of season ticket holders who will sell their seats on the “Padres Ticket Marketplace” for less than face value this season. So if I get the yearning to see a live game I can go there and still buy good seats for less than the Padres.

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Don Bauder Jan. 14, 2009 @ 3:01 p.m.

Response to post #1: Perhaps as a lure to get people to buy season tickets, the Padres will throw in a condo in the ballpark district. If the team gets bad enough, and condo prices continue plummeting, you might be able to get a free condo for just one game ticket. That's sort of like buying a toaster and getting a bank free. Best, Don Bauder

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JohnnyVegas Jan. 14, 2009 @ 6:30 p.m.

How long do the "personal seat licenses" last???

That license is also such a scam. I remember when the NFL started that nonsense I couldn't believe people let themselves get shaken down like that!

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Don Bauder Jan. 14, 2009 @ 10:17 p.m.

Response to post #3: Oh, the personal seat license scam is going on in several cities and in more than one sport. Best, Don Bauder

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tjw Jan. 14, 2009 @ 10:41 p.m.

I can't get over how San Diego tries to do business with billionaires with lawyers that can eat Mayors and city counsels for breakfast-- with taxpayers picking up the tab. I used to really like going to the "Murph" to see the Padres. Now the big money has ruined it for me. Nine dollar cup of beer--and they want US to pay for their new stadiums. Wow. The nerve. Now, amazingly, Moores got some stooges to BUY the Pads? No wonder Trevor bailed.

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Don Bauder Jan. 15, 2009 @ 7:10 a.m.

Response to post #5: The Padres pulled off a scam in getting the City's $300 million-plus for the ballpark. Predictably, ticket and concession prices zoomed; it always happens when owners wangle a new stadium out of duped taxpayers. The billionaire owners get rich and the middle class voters can't afford to go to games. The people of San Diego were warned this was going to happen, but few listened. Best, Don Bauder

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paul Jan. 15, 2009 @ 7:54 a.m.

Speaking of jumping out just in time, according to the VoSD and the UT recently:

(From the VoSD): "After 18 months of negotiations, Ballpark Village, the $1.4 billion proposal to build a large convention hotel adjacent to Petco Park, will start anew.

JMI Realty, Padres owner John Moores' development company, has terminated negotiations on the project to eliminate any threat of litigation stemming from the involvement of Nancy Graham, the former Centre City Development Corp. president who resigned in July."

How convenient is that? Financials have tanked and the building boom downtown has cratered, but the reason for scrapping the deal is Nancy Graham. Yeah, right. I wonder what obligations CCDC let JMI out of by scrapping this deal?

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Fred Williams Jan. 15, 2009 @ 7:58 a.m.

Riding the rail was a punishment of Colonial America in which a man was made to straddle a fence rail held on the shoulders of two men, with other men on either side to keep him upright on the rail. The victim was then paraded around town or taken to the city limits and dumped by the roadside. Injuries from the ride could, if the victim were stripped, result in a cut crotch that often made walking painful.

The punishment was usually imposed in connection with tarring and feathering.

Alternatively it can refer to tying a person's hands and feet around a rail so the person dangles under the rail.

Source: Wikipedia

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Don Bauder Jan. 15, 2009 @ 8:28 a.m.

Response to post #7: Yes, I laughed out loud (LOL, Johnny?) upon seeing that excuse for backing out of further ballpark development. The media seemed to buy it, LOL, and not surprisingly for San Diego. (See, I am turning into a thoroughly modern Millie in my dotage.) Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Jan. 15, 2009 @ 8:30 a.m.

Response to post #8: And all this time I thought riding the rails referred to hobos. Thanks for the enlightenment. Best, Don Bauder

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Anon92107 Jan. 15, 2009 @ 12:22 p.m.

Don, I think it is time for us to demand that all of our local, state and federal politicians and executive bureaucrats take at least an immediate 20% cut in pay and benefits.

The wealth of America will suffer at least a 20% decline due to this recession and it’s time for politicians to share the pain, time to lead us out of the recession they aided and abetted with their gross negligence in leadership.

Giving away taxpayer monies to robber barons like Moores and Spanos is just one form of local government larceny that is a root cause of the current destruction of San Diego economy.

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Don Bauder Jan. 15, 2009 @ 2:54 p.m.

Response to post #11: Yes, corporate welfare, particularly sports welfare for billionaire team owners, has picked the pockets of San Diegans. Now the deep recession is picking those pockets, too. Will San Diegans wake up? Best, Don Bauder

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shizzyfinn Jan. 15, 2009 @ 4:09 p.m.

The Chargers must be kicking themselves for trying to squeeze more blood out of the San Diego turnip instead of jumping ship before the financial mess hit. Ain't no way this city is going to be paying for a stadium any time soon, and given the economic crash, public subsidizin' is a lot less likely to happen elsewhere, too. So if a new stadium is still the goal for the next few years, the team likely would have to pick up its own tab. What a concept!

When it comes to the personal seat license deal, I don't have any objection. Owners of businesses should have the right to set prices as they wish. Of course, it does strike me as rather crass for teams to extend middle fingers to fans who supported the teams for years. I happened to be at this year's home opener of the New York Giants, who are going to a new PSL-heavy stadium next year...one of the team's owners took to the field at halftime to give a speech to the crowd over the PA...and his entire spiel was drowned out by boos.

And given the new zeal for thriftiness that seems to be sweeping America, this seems like a tough time to start catering exclusively to wealthy clients. For example, the New York Jets will be playing in the same new stadium as the Giants, and in October, the Jets held an online auction for a small slice of the PSLs. Management has spun the auction as a success, but it is telling that, just prior to the auction, the number of auctioned seats was scaled down by 2/3.

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Dannyboy Jan. 15, 2009 @ 4:28 p.m.

Time to check out high school sports. Price is right and more purity in regards to financial influence.

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Don Bauder Jan. 15, 2009 @ 9:03 p.m.

Response to post #13: I hope you are right that San Diego will not support pro sports welfare with the city on the brink of bankruptcy and the economy deep in recession. I wish I were sure you are right. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Jan. 15, 2009 @ 9:05 p.m.

Response to post #14: Of course, you could go to local college games in which players perform like high schoolers. Best, Don Bauder

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Anon92107 Jan. 16, 2009 @ 12:45 p.m.

Response to post #12: "--- Now the deep recession is picking those pockets, too. Will San Diegans wake up?"

The answer is most obviously "NO". San Diego republican voters have proven to be the stupidest people in America after electing three republicans in a row, Golding, Murphy and Sanders who have robbed the City treasury for over 16 years to increase their own personal wealth as their highest priority.

On top of this, during the last eight years Washington republicans have caused every major problem we have in America today from betrayals of our military and the U.S. Constitution to the Depression we are descending into that you and the 2008 Nobel Prize Winner Paul Krugman are warning us about daily.

As long as brain-dead republican voters exist to drive homo sapiens into extinction it is no wonder that republican politicians refuse to cut their royalty class pay and benefits to share the pain of the disasters they created.

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shizzyfinn Jan. 16, 2009 @ 2:24 p.m.

It ain't just Republican politicians who are part of the problem. I like Barack Obama a lot, but it breaks my heart when, after being asked if Bush's numerous crimes should be investigated, he says this: "I don’t believe that anybody is above the law, but we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards."

You know what they say about the more things change...

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JohnnyVegas Jan. 16, 2009 @ 2:38 p.m.

The biggest mistake any person can make is trying to lay blame on only one specific party.

I was a solid hardcore democrat my entire life, until I started seeing how they morally bankrupted the poor and middle class to fund their biggest donor-the public employee unions.

Broke my heart to see the democrats raise the sales taxes time after time and wanting to again today, a very regressive tax hitting the poor 100 times more then the wealthy, to fund the gold plated Cadillac pesnions and pay for our public employees.

I am a hardcore Independant now, and very happy. Both parties have destroyed the backbone of America, the working middle class.

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Don Bauder Jan. 16, 2009 @ 5:38 p.m.

Response to post #17: Golding and Murphy sure disappeared in a hurry. I suspect the same will happen to Sanders. It's premature now, however. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Jan. 16, 2009 @ 5:42 p.m.

Response to post #18: Obama's appointments have been extremely disappointing. Summers and Geithner were major players in blocking the regulation of derivatives -- thus helping to set up the world for the calamity unfolding now. Mary Schapiro, named to head the SEC, has consistently let the big crooks off the hook, and only chased some of the small crooks. Obama is not producing change we can believe in. It appears it will be business as usual. I hope I am wrong. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Jan. 16, 2009 @ 5:45 p.m.

Response to post #19: I know what you mean. Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, both Democrats, have helped to produce the economic mess the world is in. Best, Don Bauder

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Anon92107 Jan. 17, 2009 @ 10:36 a.m.

Response to post #18 & 19:

Well said shizzyfinn and JohnnyVegas.

Regardless of our initial concerns about Obama, let's at least give him 100 days to turn rhetoric into actions.

If he saves us from a GOP Depression I'll be very happy with that for openers.

And if he gets everyone that is unemployed back into good paying jobs and benefits for those who want to work hard to rebuild America I'll be overjoyed beyond my wildest dreams.

Unfortunately, it still appears that both the republican and democratic members of congress are still doing business as usual to perpetuate their aristocratic welfare state, and I can only hope that the voters will support Obama enough to force congressmen and women to accept responsibility and accountability for their failures at last.

We most certainly need a new beginning to prove that American Democracy really can overcome over 50 years of criminal negligence by our elected representatives.

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JF Jan. 17, 2009 @ 12:03 p.m.

San Diego republican voters have proven to be the stupidest people in America after electing three republicans in a row, Golding, Murphy and Sanders who have robbed the City treasury for over 16 years to increase their own personal wealth as their highest priority.

You forgot that San Diego's "best" mayor, Pete Wilson, is the one who caused SD to get back less of it's taxes from Sacramento than other cities.

He's also the one who started SPSP and the CCDC.

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ronaldi Jan. 17, 2009 @ 12:55 p.m.

Great insight! You have to give Moores credit as a business man. Is he really getting divorced?

In any case, you mentioned BAILOUT money going to build infrastructure for sports teams. That scares me. Let's see. What's more important - Water, sewers, bridges, highways, railroads, manufacturing, energy or sport franchises?

Do you think they will attempt to use any of the bail out money to build stadiums and ball parks? If so, I hereby request that you devote an article to just this subject to help reduce the chance of this happening. Once the ball gets rolling, it's very hard to stop it.

Ron Harris

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JohnnyVegas Jan. 17, 2009 @ 1:19 p.m.

Do you think they will attempt to use any of the bail out money to build stadiums and ball parks? ===============================

This will never happen.

If it did you would see a second American Revolution. Seriously.

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JohnnyVegas Jan. 17, 2009 @ 1:29 p.m.

Looks like vested public pensions in Vallejo, including those already retired are going to be getting a haircut. JF, if I were you I would be getting the FF union lined up with a sustainable (as in cheaper) pension plan, because if BK comes you can kiss those 90% pensions goodbye;

Bankrupt Vallejo eyes CalPERS By Ed Mendel

"The city of Vallejo’s groundbreaking attempt to use bankruptcy to overturn expensive labor contracts may include pension and retiree health contracts with CalPERS.

The list of creditors holding the “20 largest unsecured claims” issued by Vallejo when it declared bankruptcy last May was topped by the California Public Employees Retirement System — $135 million for retiree health care and $84 million for pensions.

The city has not formally proposed a change in retiree benefits. But Vallejo officials have said publicly that they want to negotiate a “long-term solution” with the public employee unions.

An attorney for the city’s retirees, James Paul, said in a filing with the U.S. Banruptcy Court last month that the city “has indicated its intent” to modify retiree health benefits in talks with unions and the retirees committee."

http://calpensions.com/2009/01/15/bankrupt-vallejo-eyes-calpers/

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Don Bauder Jan. 17, 2009 @ 3:45 p.m.

Response to post #23: Achieving accountability in Congress would be a wondrous feat indeed. Ditto for making Congress members responsible. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Jan. 17, 2009 @ 3:47 p.m.

Response to post $24: Yes, CCDC was Pete Wilson's baby. The logic was transparent: he wanted to make sure the downtown establishment controlled development there and the people were kept out of the process. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Jan. 17, 2009 @ 3:55 p.m.

Response to post #25: After the federal government looked into the gifts that Moores showered on then-Councilmember Valerie Stallings, Moores got a free pass. If you will remember, he supposedly separated from his wife during that period. I will tell you that there was a lot of cynicism over that: were they really separated, or was this a defense move? I was working for the U-T at the time and didn't dare express my skepticism. There is talk -- not just in San Diego -- that bailout money will be used to build stadiums for billionaire sports team owners. I don't believe there has been anything official on it. The idea is so repugnant that I can barely put it in words. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Jan. 17, 2009 @ 3:59 p.m.

Response to post #26: Look, if we can't get revolutions going over the additional bailout money for B of A, and the $300 billion loan guarantee for Citigroup, and the massive gift to AIG without authorization, will we ever get Americans to storm the Bastille? We won't unless the recession really gets bad -- turns into a depression.Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Jan. 17, 2009 @ 4:01 p.m.

Response to post #27: Remember, Vallejo had to go into BK. The unions wouldn't bend, even though the city was making the threat. Best, Don Bauder

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bootsdady Jan. 18, 2009 @ 10:44 a.m.

It's funny just how much you learn about how much corruption there is, in the city council and local politics, if you go to the meetings and hang around afterwards to see who shakes who's hand. I was witness to such an event when I saw the city council members lining up to shake Steve South's (CEO of EDCO)hand while telling him they will see him later that night. Shortly thereafter the city land fill fees jumped creating a problem for local haulers to stay in business while the franchised trash companies fees are kept secret by having private agreements with the city. Then ch10 praised the move saying EDCO just opened a recycling plant in East County for Construction and Demolition materials to go, instead of the city land fill in Meramar. My point is whatever Moors is doing it was planed out with CCDC and all the other players involved months ago. Don is right we got screwed a long time ago when they first built the ballpark, and people need to wake up. These agreements are not made in public meetings but behind closed doors. The UT and local TV news channals are just propaganda machines for these people.

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Don Bauder Jan. 18, 2009 @ 7:47 p.m.

Response to post #33: You are right: the big corporate welfare decisions are made behind closed doors. The media twist the facts around so that it appears the welfare recipients are doing the City a favor. It's pathetic, really. It's propaganda, as you state. Best, Don Bauder

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Fred Williams Jan. 19, 2009 @ 7:01 a.m.

Don, I found this in Gerry Braun's desk drawer. Apparently, it was supposed to be at the end of the Mayor's big speech...

MAYOR SANDERS SPEAKING AT THE BALBOA THEATER:

....Now before you head for the doors, I want to announce one more thing.

See, before I ever got here, there were a couple bad deals made behind closed-doors...and well, as a former cop I've just got to say they were against the law, and as Mayor, I have to say they're also against the public interest.

I know downtown boosters who fund my campaigns like to claim that John Moores has done a lot of good. But it's not true. In fact, John Moores has siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars from the city right into his pocket. He bribed at least one member of the Council, and he's now preparing to skip town with the money he stole from us.

I'm not going to let that happen.

As Mayor, I'm requesting the City Attorney and District Attorney both initiate legal proceedings to get our money back, and charge John Moores for his crimes.

At the same time, we're going to be looking into charges for Alex and Dean Spanos. Again, previous councils and mayors gave them hundreds of millions of your tax dollars. They're skipping town when San Diego's broke, no matter what stories Fabiani might be spinning, and we better get our money back before they go.

Frankly, this is not only for financial reasons, but for moral reasons. I could not stand here as your Mayor and former police officer sworn to uphold the law, and turn a blind eye to the fact that while the rest of the city suffers, blatant crooks are laughing at how they robbed us blind.

San Diego deserves better.

What will we do with the money we get back? I'm committed to spending it solely on housing and care for the less fortunate in our midst. It never made sense to lavish cash on billionaires while ignoring the hungry and homeless.

We're going to right that wrong.

The era of delay, deny and deceive are over. We won't delay prosecution of Moores and Spanos, and Jack McGrory better hire himself some lawyers too. We won't deny that those deals were wrong and must be revoked. We won't deceive the citizens by claiming Moores and Spanos are in any way public-minded when they divert tax money to their pet projects.

My fellow San Diegans, we cannot go forward unless we right the wrongs of the past.

It's time. As your Mayor, I will do everything in my power to get our money back, and bring these civic criminals to justice.

Thank you, and God bless San Diego.

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Don Bauder Jan. 19, 2009 @ 7:12 a.m.

Response to post #35: Wonderful. However, the speech's logic falls apart in one place: Mayor Sanders doing something for moral reasons rather than for political expediency. All that administration knows is political expediency. Braun may be in charge of generating the propaganda. Best, Don Bauder

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Fred Williams Aug. 16, 2009 @ 12:24 a.m.

Has the financial situation gotten bad enough yet that we're going to ever attempt to get our money back from Moores and Spanos?

Apparently not.

Instead, we're cutting more services for the hungry and homeless while paying off the massive debet from Moores' ballpark fraud.

Moores should not only be ridden out of town on the rails (see above), he should first be shackled naked in Balboa Park for every San Diegan to spit on him, abuse him, and slap him around. Justice requires that he have his mouth wired open so everyone in town can evacuate their bowels into his gullet...the exact same thing he's done to San Diego and Peregrine investors.

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