• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

Like Kroc and Golding, former mayor Maureen O'Connor has not remarried. As a physical education teacher at a Catholic school, O'Connor, then 25, met Robert O. Peterson while running for the San Diego City Council in 1971. He was 55. Peterson, founder of the Jack In The Box hamburger chain, provided financial backing to O'Connor's subsequent campaigns and married her in 1977 in a European wedding.

Peterson lavished more than $500,000 on O'Connor's first mayoral race against Roger Hedgecock in the 1983 special election to replace Pete Wilson. During his victorious campaign against her, Hedgecock allies accused O'Connor and Peterson of conflicts of interest arising from Peterson's partial ownership interest in the Grant Hotel. A year later, Hedgecock found himself embroiled in the J. David political contribution scandal, but O'Connor declined to run in the June 1984 regular election, saying neither she nor Peterson were ready for another vitriolic go-around with Hedgecock.

Then, in September 1985, with Hedgecock on trial for political corruption and a likelihood that he would be forced from office, Peterson filed for divorce against O'Connor after eight years of marriage. Union-Tribune columnist Tom Blair reported that "the settlement isn't public, but an O'Connor friend says it's sizable. O'Connor, whose maiden name was restored, according to court documents, reportedly was in New York City when the dissolution was filed." Others claimed that the rift was caused by Peterson's opposition to O'Connor's ambition to run for mayor again.

The couple eventually reconciled, and by the spring of 1986, O'Connor was campaigning to replace Hedgecock, who had departed city hall after his conviction on the corruption charges. Vowing to spend no more than $170,000 on the campaign, she won the election that June. When she filed her first financial disclosure statement as mayor, it revealed an array of holdings from Gustaf Anders restaurant -- owned jointly with Union-Tribune publisher Helen Copley, an O'Connor intimate -- to 20 pieces of property in the county, valued well in excess of $2.5 million.

The couple's assets outside San Diego were not disclosed. "We listed anything that could even remotely be construed as doing business with the city," her attorney, David Bain, told the Los Angeles Times. "But it's safe to say that Maureen and Bob have interests outside San Diego that have nothing at all to do with San Diego." Though Bain didn't mention it, it was common knowledge that Peterson owned much of the Northern California resort town of Mendocino, as well as a hotel in Orange County.

"I don't see how anything that she and her husband hold could cause a significant conflict," Bain added. "Her policy has always been not to vote on anything that even remotely could be seen as a conflict, and she'll continue to follow that guideline. But I don't think there are going to be many cases where she might disqualify herself, and if there are, they'll be minor ones."

In December 1989, downtown-hotel magnate Douglas Manchester accused O'Connor of holding up the construction of the city's bay-front convention center while failing to reveal that she and her husband had a financial interest in the 249-room Grand Hotel, across the street from Disneyland. Oscar Irwin, an attorney for the Port of San Diego, defended the mayor, saying she had disclosed the interest earlier, while serving on the Port Commission. "Why are they crying to the press...unless it has to do with Manchester's vindictiveness?" Irwin told the Los Angeles Times.

"I came in as a maverick," O'Connor was quoted as saying, "and I will go out as a maverick." She served only one term as mayor. Peterson died of leukemia at the age of 78 in April 1994, less than two years after she left office. The former mayor, who is seen around town driving a silver Mercedes Benz, now manages much of her late husband's real estate empire, including the properties in Mendocino. On occasion, she has returned to the San Diego political fray, most notably to oppose the Chargers' ticket-guarantee and to speak out against Sempra Energy. She is said to remain friendly with Joan Kroc and Helen and David Copley, political allies and confidants of years past.

As the last decade of the century dawned, three men emerged to inherit San Diego's wealthy-spouse legacy. Alan Bersin was a corporate lawyer in Los Angeles when he married Lisa Foster in 1991. He had met her while working pro bono at a homeless legal clinic. It was her first marriage, his second. Foster was the daughter of Stanley E. Foster, who himself had married into San Diego's wealthy Ratner family almost 50 years earlier.

San Diego's legendary Ratner dynasty had begun in 1921 when Isaac Ratner arrived in town from New York and established United Cap Works on the east side of downtown. From the Depression through World War II, the factory made Navy uniforms and caps. After the war, Isaac's sons Abe and Nathaniel, along with Abe's son-in-law Stan Foster, switched to making menswear and casual clothing, eventually becoming one of the county's biggest employers.

A flood of cheap imports eventually doomed their clothing factory, but the Ratners, led by Foster, sold off that end of the business and switched to licensing their brand name, Hang Ten. Foster also became one of the county's biggest developers of so-called "maquiladora" sites in the South Bay and along Otay Mesa. He snapped up large tracts of cheap agricultural land near the border and developed them into trucking depots and warehouses supporting the burgeoning "twin plant" movement in Tijuana, where low-wage workers toiled making goods for low-duty import into the U.S. By 1991, when he was 64, Foster boasted to a magazine writer that he owned 17 industrial projects with more than two million square feet.

With Silberman's imprisonment and the death of his one-time partner, liberal Republican Robert Peterson, Foster had become one of the few remaining pillars of the city's left-of-center establishment. He backed stiff handgun controls and gave generously to Planned Parenthood and the Democratic party. Bersin had graduated from Yale Law School in 1974, one class behind Bill Clinton, and, like Clinton, had attended Oxford's Balliol College on a Rhodes scholarship. He spoke of his personal relationship with the Arkansas governor and told the Union-Tribune that Hillary Clinton had introduced him to his first wife.

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

More from SDReader


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!