Will letters from Coronado haunt the presidential hopes of Hillary Clinton, wife of Bill, whose own campaign for president enjoyed the big-time financial backing of the late M. Larry Lawrence, once the most powerful and richest Democrat in San Diego County? The proprietor of the Hotel del Coronado, real estate wheeler-dealer Lawrence financed a stable of candidates — local, state, and national — and squired a bevy of flashy young women. By the time he took Bill Clinton under his wing in the early 1990s, Lawrence was on his fourth wife Shelia, an ex-security guard at a casino on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, said to have also attracted Clinton’s interest. This month, the Clinton presidential library in Little Rock released another round of documents from that high-rolling era that illustrate Lawrence’s way with personal blandishments.
“In 1944, FDR narrowly prevailed over Tom Dewey,” wrote Lawrence in a November 11, 1992, letter to the then-president elect. “That was the last time San Diego voted for a Democrat until your victory. In addition, ‘our’ lucky charm, Shelia, brought in two new Democratic members of Congress, two State Senators and four State Assembly members. All categories are records for this area.
“Yes, I am very proud of her and of you! We spent almost a week in Little Rock and, fortunately, were able to see you at the airport. We also had a lovely dinner with Deborah Sale and her very enjoyable husband, Ted. Both of them suggested we put our ideas and suggestions in writing as to where, if possible, we can help in the future. We are doing so separately.
“My desire is that Shelia will be given priority consideration—first, on arrangements for the Inauguration and, subsequently, as your protocol chief. We also have a wonderful idea about Coronado, which we hope to share with you privately. It is perfect for you, Hillary and Chelsea... right on the beach, almost private golf, and very affordable.”
Lawrence later revealed his secret: a mansion he renamed Crown Manor down the beach from his hotel, where Clinton and Shelia, without Hillary, were later rumored to have spent quality time together. During a deposition held in connection with the Paula Jones sexual harassment case against Clinton, Shelia denied any hanky-panky with the president, saying talk of intimacy at Crown Manor was an “outrageous, scurrilous accusation that is completely untrue,” according to a March 1998 account in the Washington Post. Added the paper: “Clinton likewise denied it in his deposition, although he acknowledged staying overnight in her house on two occasions while president, once with his family and on another occasion with [top aide and close confidant, Bruce R. Lindsey].” (The rumors about Shelia and Bill’s frolics were first reported by Arianna Huffington, the liberal online mogul who was then a conservative columnist. Shelia filed a libel suit that was subsequently settled out of court, according to the Post. She later struck up a relationship with ex–Union-Tribune cartoonist Steve Kelley and fought a bitter custody battle with him over a child they had together.)
Although Lawrence’s wife didn’t get the White House protocol gig, Larry was appointed ambassador to Switzerland; he died of cancer while in office. Clinton arranged for burial at Arlington National Cemetery, but subsequent revelations that Lawrence had falsified his wartime Merchant Marine record caused a scandal that led to his disinterment and reburial back in San Diego.