Newly married Bersin and Lisa Foster arrived in San Diego in the spring of 1992, in time for presidential primary season. He took a job as "visiting professor" at the University of San Diego's law school and became a key operative of San Diegans for Clinton. With Clinton's election, Bersin, who had been in town for less than a year, was named United States Attorney. Attorney General Janet Reno designated him U.S. "border czar," a position he used to advocate tough restrictions on immigrants while championing Otay Mesa development and the maquiladora movement.
As it happened, Bersin, Foster, and their wives had a personal interest along the border. County records showed that in January 1992 they had formed a general partnership called Otay Terminal, which snapped up four industrial parcels worth more than $12 million. One of the sites, subsequently leased to a freight-forwarding service, was located less than a quarter-mile from the frontier.
"It's a partnership in which my wife and I have an interest," Bersin explained in a 1998 interview. "I don't know when we made it, but it's something my father-in-law organized. It's a truck -- Consolidated Freight -- transfer point." He pointed out that the Otay Mesa property was purchased in 1992, "before I was U.S. Attorney." Bersin defended himself against allegations that the border-area property holdings of he and his family represented at least an appearance of conflict of interest by saying, "No, because first of all, it's fully disclosed, and it had no bearing on,you know, the requirement is to disclose it. Frankly, none of the decisions I made as a prosecutor were affected by that." He added, "the notion that my role was driven by a desire to feather my own nest, I think, is a little bit far-fetched."
Still, there were skeptics who pointed to Bersin's role in the development of the so-called International Gateway of the Americas project, a shopping and office complex next to the San Ysidro border crossing. "When the proposed International Gateway of the Americas Project was going nowhere," said a San Diego Union-Tribune editorial praising him in March 1998, "it was Bersin who stepped in and cut through the red tape to get the border development project on track." In a later interview, Bersin downplayed his role, saying he was just trying to get better circulation through the notoriously congested border.
In March 1998, the San Diego Unified School District board voted to name Bersin superintendent of schools. Backed by his father-in-law Foster, the Union-Tribune, and other members of the city's old guard, he launched a controversial overhaul of the district.
Last year, when Frances O'Neill Zimmerman -- an opponent of Bersin's restructuring moves, who was the lone hold-out against hiring him -- was up for re-election, Foster and his business and real estate allies spent almost $1 million in a losing bid to unseat her.
Another high-ranking member of San Diego's educational establishment to come to power here after meeting a wealthy wife-to-be is UCSD chancellor Robert Carr Dynes. A physicist who grew up poor in a small Canadian city, Dynes was a researcher at AT&T Bell Labs in New Jersey from 1968 until late 1990, when he became a UCSD professor. His wife-to-be, Frances Hellman, had worked with Dynes at Bell Labs from 1985 to 1987, when she moved to UCSD, also to become a physics professor.
Dynes was named UCSD chancellor in April 1996. Hellman was seated at the chancellor's inaugural dinner table. In May 1998, the couple was wed in San Francisco, where the marriage on Stinson Beach in Marin County was big news. The father of the bride was Warren Hellman, a multi-millionaire investment banker and venture capitalist with close connections to the University of California. Hellman's company, Hellman and Friedman, claims to have raised more than $4.5 billion in investment capital from investors, including the California Public Employees Retirement System, known as CALPERS. A well-known Bay Area philanthropist and political power broker, Hellman is a close ally of San Francisco mayor Willie Brown. Business Week magazine recently referred to the financier as the Warren Buffett of the West Coast.
News of Dynes's wealthy father-in-law did not make it into the Union-Tribune, however. Nor did word of Dynes's bitter split-up from his first wife Christel, still living in New Jersey. Dynes had sued for divorce in July 1996, shortly after he became chancellor. Christel had responded by claiming that Dynes had "deserted" her "on or about January 1, 1991, ever since which time and for more than 12 months last past, [Dynes] has willfully and continuously deserted [Christel Dynes]."
A final divorce decree was issued in January 1998 after a caustic series of court filings. Dynes agreed to give his ex-wife their house in New Jersey, pay her $6000 a month alimony -- about a third of his UCSD salary -- and split all patent royalties with her 50-50.
As chancellor, Dynes had become a friend of Padres owner and venture capitalist John Moores. Named in 1997 by Mayor Susan Golding to a committee exploring whether taxpayers should subsidize a new ballpark, Dynes wholeheartedly endorsed the idea. He and Moores also joined the board of Leap Wireless, a corporate spin-off of Qualcomm, the cell-phone pioneer closely tied to the university. Moores had kind words for his friend. "I would not expect a physicist to have the interpersonal skills and the energy level this guy does," he told the Union-Tribune in November 1998.
As it turned out, Dynes and Moores had something else in common. In October 1999, Moores and Warren Hellman paid an undisclosed sum to take over Blackbaud, Inc., a South Carolina accounting and business-management software company. As part of the deal, Hellman's son, Mick, became Blackbaud's chairman of the board. In a February 2000 interview, Dynes said he had no knowledge of his in-laws' arrangement, and it would not have mattered if he had. (Moores, it also happens, is a member of the University of California board of regents.)
In January 2000, a reporter's inquiries caused Dynes to amend his financial disclosure statement to disclose his wife's assets, which he had not previously reported, as required by state law. It revealed 16 separate interests, each valued at more than $100,000, the maximum reporting category, including holdings in Bank of America, First Capital Corp, and Avon Products, in addition to the Hellman & Friedman Management Fund.