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As of Friday, December 8, an enormous portrait of Susan Golding still loomed over disembarking passengers at Lindbergh Field as they made their way across the pedestrian bridge to the parking lot. The tardy removal of the ex-mayor's official photo, days after her departure from office, and the cult of personality it represented, was an apt symbol, for better or worse, of Golding's lasting influence on the city.

Under Golding, the city, its agencies, and its heavily influenced affiliates, such as the Port District, lavished billions of public dollars on everything from the new airport terminal at Lindbergh to an expensive sewage-treatment complex to a bayfront-blocking convention center. Only an incipient scandal involving stock-trading by one of Golding's city-council colleagues blocked -- at least for the time being -- her final, most extravagant monument, a downtown baseball stadium.

Monuments require money, of course, but Golding, aided by the Union-Tribune, a newspaper that appeared to shrink in power and professionalism during each year of her tenure, was a master at concealing the eventual cost to taxpayers. Though the giant head of Golding at the airport is now gone, the increases in sewer and water bills she helped arranged for -- and worked to delay until after she left office -- will last for decades. So will higher airport fees and rental-car taxes, all supported by the mayor and her so-called "pro-business" allies in the local chamber of commerce and the U-T.

Likewise, energy bills will also be higher. Unlike her predecessor, Maureen O'Connor, who led a populist fight against the takeover of San Diego Gas & Electric by Southern California Edison, Golding and her city-council colleagues easily acquiesced to the merger of SDG&E and Southern California Gas that created Sempra, the hydra-headed utility giant. Deregulation's architect, state senator Steve Peace, had a passive friend in Susan Golding and the San Diego City Council as his now-discredited measure made its way through the legislature.

San Diego taxpayers and utility-rate payers -- which means everybody who lives and works here -- are only now discovering the price of the Golding legacy.

Perhaps, for at least a bit longer than the portrait of Susan Golding hung at the airport, they might remember who was at the helm of the good ship San Diego. In final tribute to the last annum of San Diego's Golding era, we review the year's political and governmental foibles, as we witnessed and recorded them.

Sleeping with the Fishes

March 9, 2000

It's the stuff of urban legend, like sharks swimming through city sewers: the dead catfish delivered to the Reader offices on India Street the day after the paper featured "Are the Padres Married to the Mob?" (January 27). The story linked Padres team owners Larry Lucchino and John Moores to ex-felon Jay Emmett.

Emmett was at the center of the 1980s kickback scheme involving the mobbed-up Westchester Premier Theatre; he turned state's witness in order to save himself from prison. He'd been fingered as bagman in cash transactions between the theater and Warner Communications, where Emmett was an executive vice president and close friend of then-Warner chief executive officer Steve Ross.

After the catfish were dropped off at the Reader's front desk, versions of the incident -- some accurate, some not so accurate -- began making the rounds of the local media. Here are some questions that have been asked about the catfish incident.

Q. How was the package delivered?

A. By messenger service.

Q. In what were the fish wrapped?

A. Heavy brown butcher paper. The package weighed approximately three pounds. A card on which the words "Thank You" were embossed was attached to the butcher paper. This card was unsigned. Blood was leaking through the paper.

Q. Did the package contain anything other than the catfish?

A. Yes, two business cards, one imprinted with "Larry Lucchino" and the other with "John Moores." Lucchino's bore his purported initials. Moores's card bore his purported signature. On the back of Moores's card was the inscription, "Have a nice day."

Q. Has there been any other suspicious activity since the fish were delivered?

A. Nothing that can be linked to Moores or Lucchino. A man was seen digging through the Reader dumpster, apparently looking for documents, but he may have been homeless or simply a disgruntled baseball fan. He fled when approached.

Q. Will this incident dissuade you from writing about Moores, Lucchino, and Emmett in the future?

A. No.

June 22, 2000

The Los Angeles Times, unloaded by L.A.'s powerful Chandler family in the wake of a scandal over the paper's business and editorial dealings with L.A.'s Staples Sports Arena, is hammering San Diego for going too slow on the ballpark. In a front-page story in mid July under the byline of longtime San Diego bureau chief Tony Perry, the paper quotes Padres co-owner Lucchino -- along with downtown business boosters like mayoral candidate Peter Q. Davis and ex-Roger Hedgecock aide and lobbyist Mike McDade -- to support Perry's view that "the city moves with glacial sluggishness on big-ticket public projects." Complained Davis, "It's just too popular in San Diego to be negative, particularly if you're a politician." Among a list of purported San Diego sins, according to Perry, are "small-town thinking" and "reluctance to compromise." In addition, says the Times writer, "smugness is also a factor." The Reader's coverage of Jay Emmett, the Padres board member who pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges after being linked to mob dealings in New York's Westchester Premier Theatre scandal, also took a hit. Without naming Emmett or offering any description of the case and Emmett's long relationship with Lucchino and the Padres, Perry quoted unnamed "San Diego journalists" who found the story "flimsy."

The Largest Sewage Spill

February 29, 2000

It was San Diego's longest day for human waste as the city sewage system dumped 36 million gallons of raw sewage into the Pacific off Ocean Beach, resulting in the closure of a mile-long stretch of beach. Dave Schlesinger, high-paid director of the city's Metropolitan Wastewater Division told the Union-Tribune that the spill, which somehow went undetected for almost a week, was the worst he'd seen. "In the ten years that I've been here, this is the largest one."

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