A lot of top lobbyists, registered to do business at San Diego’s city hall, spent a busy summer shuffling their client lists around. The biggest and most intriguing of the changes, local political insiders say, have been those at Public Policy Strategies, the influence-peddling company set up by political consultant Tom Shepard that has often reached out to some of the very same city officeholders he helped elect.
Chief among Shepard loyalists is lame-duck GOP mayor Jerry Sanders. Public Policy has served as a cozy landing pad for ex–Sanders spokeswoman Rachel Laing, who bailed out of the mayor’s office earlier this year, and Kimberly Hale Miller, who was once married to top Sanders flack Darren Pudgil. With the mayor leaving office soon, a key Shepard power center will soon be history.
In another apparent setback for the onetime aide to Republican Roger Hedgecock, the San Diego Police Officers Association, which Public Policy had long represented at city hall, ended its relationship with the firm last month. The cop union defected to the San Diego Group, run by John Wainio, a former aide to ex-Democratic congressman Jim Bates. But Shepard is currently a campaign consultant to congressman Bob Filner, now running for mayor. If the Democrat beats his GOP rival, city councilman Carl DeMaio, Shepard may be able to continue his power run. If not, he could be on his way to a premature retirement.
Especially interesting to some, in light of Shepard’s newly minted relationship with Filner, is a client that Public Policy reported picking up on July 10. Known as PCL-Turner JV, the general-contractor and construction-management joint venture is vying for the contract to build a mammoth addition to the city’s downtown convention center and has hired Shepard’s firm to help bag the deal. During spring’s mayoral primary campaign, Filner called financing for the convention center expansion proposal “the most blatant giveaway of public money that I’ve seen in decades.” In an op-ed that appeared in U-T San Diego in May, Filner wrote: “The only mayoral leadership we have seen in this city for decades has been on behalf of special interests — developers, lobbyists and downtown interests who have had free rein at City Hall at the expense of our neighborhoods, our schools and our middle class. The stadium ticket guarantee, ‘Enron by the Sea,’ and just last week, the billion-dollar convention center giveaway to private, out-of-town hoteliers. Enough is enough! It’s time to turn the page to the 21st century!”
Afterward, though, according to a July 30 account on the Voice of San Diego website, Filner told a radio interviewer: “I did not like the financing mechanism. But if it is validated by the court, I will support that. In fact, I think I’m the mayor who will bring that project to fruition. Because I have the ability to work, I think, with all the stakeholders, whether it be the business community or labor.”
Reached by phone Monday, Shepard said that though he has an equity interest in Public Policy Strategies, he knows nothing about the details of its operations and was unaware of the firm’s convention center lobbying contract. He added that Filner has always been opposed to the current financing plan for the center’s expansion and that further statements from the campaign regarding the issue would be released soon. Public Policy Strategies president Phil Rath was out of the office due to illness, Shepard said, and could not immediately be reached for comment.