Ken Leighton 7:59 a.m., May 22
Mayor's protocol officer is daughter of Gregory Canyon solid waste magnate
Filner contributor is deeply rooted in San Diego lobbying, real estate development, and political fundraising, both Democratic and Republican
When Democratic mayor Bob Filner unveiled his new executive staff on Monday, one of the most intriguing names on the list was that of Molly Chase, daughter of Filner campaign contributor and Gregory Canyon solid waste disposal site promoter Nancy Chase, once chief fundraiser and political intimate of fallen GOP mayor Roger Hedgecock.
Molly Chase, according to Filner's list, is being paid $40,000 as one of the mayor’s two protocol officers. The other, Jessica Gomez, is getting $51,600, the document says.
Chase did not respond to a request for an interview left on her voicemail at city hall. Late yesterday Filner spokesperson Lena Lewis took several questions for Chase and Filner, but as of today’s late morning deadline hadn’t called back.
According to her profile on LinkedIn.com, Molly Chase had been employed as an associate at the Urban Land Institute in Los Angeles since July 2011; the office is run by former San Diego city planning chief Gail Goldberg. A woman who answered the phone there yesterday said Chase had left the organization several weeks ago to go to work for Filner.
Before the Urban Land Institute, her profile says, Chase worked as an intern for Cerrell Associates, a Los Angeles-based political and PR consulting outfit whose clients include San Diego utility giant Sempra Energy.
A 2011 graduate of the University of Southern California in International Relations, Chase also lists a previous stint as a congressional intern for Filner from May through August of 2010; between June and August 2008 she interned in the office of conservative San Diego county GOP supervisor Bill Horn.
As we reported in July of last year, Nancy Chase and her son - Molly's twin brother Peter, who lives in Boulder, Colorado - each were listed by the Filner mayoral campaign as $500 contributors to the candidate’s cause. Both Chases were identified in Filner filings as being employees of Public Policy Partners, Nancy's lobbying and consulting outfit.
Records show that the firm, which once lobbied at San Diego city hall for Gregory Canyon and Massachusetts alternative-energy company Competitive Power Ventures, is not currently active with the City.
But Chase’s website showcases a long roster of well-heeled clients, including Gregory Canyon LLC, desalination plant builder Poseidon Resources, Beazer Homes, and Hewlett-Packard.
“In addition, Ms. Chase is a highly proficient Campaign and Fundraising Consultant, enabling the election of valued Congress members, State Assembly and State Senate members, San Diego District Attorneys, Mayors and council members.”
The county's ultimate political insider, Nancy Chase, then known as Nancy Stockett, began her career in San Diego politics and government decades ago as a staffer for the then-nascent Gaslamp Quarter.
Stockett married developer Graham MacHutchin during the Hedgecock era, when she was closely associated with Tom Shepard, Filner's current political guru, who copped a plea in the J. David political corruption case that forced Hedgecock to resign following his conviction in 1985.
According to an October 1986 profile by the Los Angeles Times, Nancy and Graham MacHutchin were with Hedgecock and his wife Cindy at the then-mayor's lavish South Mission Hills mansion on the day that Hedgecock was convicted:
"After a few hours, Cindy finally said, 'We're going to have that dinner party anyway!' " Nancy MacHutchin recalled. "I called the chef and he was overjoyed because he'd always been a big fan of Roger. So we went ahead with it. It was somber, but we carried through. I think it says a lot about them."
It also says a lot about the closeness of the two families, and helps explain why Nancy MacHutchin, of all those included in Hedgecock's inner circle, is among the most bitter over Hedgecock's conviction and subsequent forced resignation.
"If any emotion is left, it's primarily one of anger at the system," MacHutchin said. "I still can't believe this happened over such innocuous things that they made out to be so big. The main thing I found out is that the justice system is pretty unjust."
In addition to their personal relationship, MacHutchin was Hedgecock's chief political fund-raiser. Later, as Hedgecock's legal woes mounted, she turned her talents to a legal defense fund that raised more than $90,000 to help defray Hedgecock's legal expenses.
Nancy MacHutchin's role in her then-husband's elaborate plans to renovate city-owned Belmont Park was also controversial, as noted by the Union-Tribune in June 2004.
Suspicions about the deal arose when it was revealed that MacHutchin's wife, Nancy, had been a political consultant and fund-raiser for Mission Beach's council representative, Mike Gotch, and Mayor Roger Hedgecock. Critics accused Gotch of using his influence to steer the development agreement to a political crony, a charge he denied.
But, his critics noted, before Gotch voted to turn half the site into a shopping center, he had opposed commercialization of the park.
"In spite of allegations made by a vocal minority, the council and I selected the developer we believed offered the best project for the community," said Gotch, now a lobbyist living in Napa. "Turning Belmont Park over to a private developer was the only way to save two historic relics, the (Giant Dipper) roller coaster and the Plunge."
Subsequently divorced from MacCutchin, Nancy married Richard Chase, the developer of the long-proposed Gregory Canyon landfill in North County, who was one of Shepard’s first clients in the consultant’s dark days after his plea bargain.
Shepard and his one-time associate, Democratic political consultant Larry Remer, worked for Chase on a number of political and lobbying projects, including a failed 1988 scheme to ship trash through San Diego's back country by train.
Known by many as San Diego's "trash king," according to Waste360.com, Richard Chase died in August 2009 at age 67, when Molly was 19, leaving completion and final permitting of the controversial project to his wife.
By then, though, the Chases were no longer living together.
In June 2004, San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Logan Jenkins reported that the couple had split four years earlier, though they remained married and in business together:
Despite that emotional divide, their mutual commitment to the Gregory Canyon landfill – and, it should be noted, their two teenage children, upon whom they both dote – keeps them in constant contact.
With Richard as project manager and Nancy as the behind-the-scenes lobbyist and PR play-caller, the Gregory Canyon landfill pushed slowly through the environmental bureaucracy as the Chases fended off repeated political and legal ambushes.
The Chases have none of their own money in Gregory Canyon Ltd., Richard said. Rather, they are the company's sole employees. (Legal, engineering and other work has been retained as needed.)
They each, however, have a large stake in the project's ultimate success. Both Chases will receive annual royalties once the landfill opens for business, Richard said.
"This (expectation) is part of our community property," he said. He likens the fixed percentage to their "pensions."
In other words, fat checks till death do them part
Shepard, too, has found huge success as an influence peddler in San Diego’s tightly knit colony of political operatives. The longtime GOP consultant turned from the party last year to work for Filner against Republican city councilman Carl DeMaio in the race for mayor.
But Shepard’s lobbying company, Public Policy Strategies, remains staffed with former GOP aides, including Rachel Laing, a one-time media handler for Republican ex-mayor Jerry Sanders, an ex-Shepard client.
The firm has also represented Gregory Canyon, Ltd.
A draft Army Corps of Engineers environmental impact statement regarding a federal permit for the controversial landfill - vigorously opposed by the Pala Band of Mission Indians and their Native American allies, as well as by new Democratic county supervisor Dave Roberts - is currently out for public review, with a hearing scheduled for January 31 and final public comments due February 12.
The long-running battle over the landfill has been a financial boon to political consultants and lobbyists on both sides of the issue. As we reported last month, a Texas Tea Party-linked political action committee spent $30,000 of Pala’s money on a last minute mail piece on behalf of the Roberts supervisorial bid.