What a difference a year can make in San Diego's uniquely rough-and-tumble brand of municipal politics.
In March of last year, then-mayor Bob Filner — a longtime critic of what he said were sweetheart Mission Bay leases granted to the hotel-owning Evans family — was at war in Superior Court with a group of hoteliers, including Bill Evans, who were trying to force the Democratic mayor to sign a promotional fee arrangement negotiated by previous mayor Jerry Sanders.
Evans and his allies, including the dean of the city's hotel lobby, Atlas Hotels’ C. Terry Brown, insisted that Republican Sanders had meant to sign the lucrative contract favored by the big hotel owners, but just hadn't gotten around to it during his final days in office.
The judge assigned to the case, Timothy B. Taylor, appointed to the bench by GOP governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and an ex-partner in the big downtown law and lobbying emporium of Sheppard Mullin, quickly approved the hotel magnates’ request to expedite the matter.
What Taylor didn't disclose was that just the year before, his nomination petition for election to the bench had been signed by none other than city councilman Todd Gloria, a proponent of the Sanders deal, and his longtime friend and political supporter Robert Gleason, chief financial officer and part owner of Evans Hotels, as well as by Gleason’s spouse.
Several days after the involvement of Gloria and Gleason was reported here, Taylor put a statement into the case record asserting that “the article...brought to the court's attention for the first time” the identities of those who had signed his petition.
"As the article states, the signatures were collected by political consultant Jennifer Tierney. The undersigned has no relationship with the individuals named in the article, and has never met or spoken to any of them."
"Ms. Tierney collected all the signatures. The goal in collecting signatures in this 'blind' fashion was to avoid disqualifying situations."
Taylor declined to take himself off the case and subsequently ruled in Filner's favor.
Gleason has long been a largely low-profile player in San Diego's big-money power politics. He's also played a national role as a board member of the Washington-based Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which backs local, state, and federal candidates around the country.
According to city disclosure records, since 2006 Gleason has personally contributed $11,505 to San Diego campaigns, including those of Republicans Jerry Sanders, Bonnie Dumanis, and Kevin Faulconer.
Evans and its employees have given a total of $55,558 to city races, including $4500 to Faulconer and $5000 to the San Diego Lodging Industry Association PAC, the numbers show.
Thus, city hall insiders weren't overly surprised when Faulconer announced that he was reappointing Gleason to the board of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, a position to which he was originally named by Sanders.
The airport board has traditionally been a landing spot for political operatives and moneymen. Among Gleason's colleagues is downtown super-lobbyist Paul Robinson, a key player in the GOP Lincoln Club, whose repeated volleys of hit pieces against Republican-turned-Democrat Nathan Fletcher and Democrat David Alvarez cleared the way for Faulconer's mayoral victory.
First appointed by Schwarzenegger, Robinson was reappointed by the GOP-majority board of supervisors.
As chairman of the airport board, Gleason has had brushes with controversy. Most recently he told U-T San Diego’s Diane Bell that a large mural of airport namesake Charles Lindbergh, criticized by some as having been Nazi sympathizer, might not be long for this world. “If no one is willing to take it for free, we’ll have to destroy it.”
Despite his close ties to the Faulconer administration, Gleason does not consort exclusively with Republicans. As reported by the U-T, one of his best friends is assembly speaker Toni Atkins, a Democrat.
"Toni has an incredibly rare mix of skills and qualities,” said Gleason, whose wedding to now-husband Marc was officiated by Atkins.
“On the one hand, she is one of the most compassionate, humble, genuine people I know. At the same time, she is incredibly hardworking, very strategic and very focused on what she wants to get done.”